Antibody-Drug Conjugate Sacituzumab Govitecan Drives Efficient Tissue Penetration and Rapid Intracellular Drug Release

Mol Cancer Ther. 2023 Jan 3;22(1):102-111. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-22-0375.


Antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) are a rapidly growing class of targeted cancer treatments, but the field has experienced significant challenges from their complex design. This study examined the multiscale distribution of sacituzumab govitecan (SG; Trodelvy), a recently clinically approved ADC, to clarify the mechanism(s) of efficacy given its unique design strategy. We employed a multiscale quantitative pharmacokinetic approach, including near-infrared fluorescence imaging, single-cell flow cytometry measurements, payload distribution via γH2AX pharmacodynamic staining, and a novel dual-labeled fluorescent technique to track the ADC and payload in a high trophoblast cell-surface antigen 2 expression xenograft model of gastric cancer (NCI-N87). We found that rapid release of the SN-38 payload from the hydrolysable linker inside cells imparts more DNA damage in vitro and in vivo than an ADC with a more stable enzyme cleavable linker. With SG, little to no extracellular payload release in the tumor was observed using a dual-labeled fluorescence technique, although bystander effects were detected. The high dosing regimen allowed the clinical dose to reach the majority of cancer cells, which has been linked to improved efficacy. In addition, the impact of multiple doses (day 1 and day 8) of a 21-day cycle was found to further improve tissue penetration despite not changing tumor uptake [percent injected dose per gram (%ID/g)] of the ADC. These results show increased ADC efficacy with SG can be attributed to efficient tumor penetration and intracellular linker cleavage after ADC internalization. This quantitative approach to study multiscale delivery can be used to inform the design of next-generation ADCs and prodrugs for other targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Camptothecin / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Liberation
  • Humans
  • Immunoconjugates*
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / drug therapy


  • sacituzumab govitecan
  • Camptothecin
  • Immunoconjugates