Molecular Pharmacology Unit, Department of Applied Research and Technological Development, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, 20133 Milan, Italy.
Beyond anticoagulation, the therapeutic potential of heparin derivatives and heparan sulfate (HS) mimetics (functionally defined HS mimetics) in oncology is related to their ability to bind and modulate the function of a vast array of HS-binding proteins with pivotal roles in cancer growth and progression. The definition of structural/functional determinants and the introduction of chemical modifications enabled heparin derivatives to be identified with greatly reduced or absent anticoagulant activity, but conserved/enhanced anticancer activity. These studies paved the way for the disclosure of structural requirements for the inhibitory effects of HS mimetics on heparanase, selectins, and growth factor receptor signaling, as well as for the limitation of side effects. Actually, HS mimetics affect the tumor biological behavior via a multi-target mechanism of action based on their effects on tumor cells and various components of the tumor microenvironment. Emerging evidence indicates that immunomodulation can participate in the antitumor activity of these agents. Significant ability to enhance the antitumor effects of combination treatments with standard therapies was shown in several tumor models. While the first HS mimetics are undergoing early clinical evaluation, an improved understanding of the molecular contexts favoring the antitumor action in certain malignancies or subgroups is needed to fully exploit their potential.
Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Department of Experimental Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Molecular Pharmacology Unit, via Amadeo 42, 20133 Milan. Italy.
Targeting heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) and enzymes involved in heparan sulfate (HS) chain editing is emerging as a new anticancer strategy. The involvement of HSPGs in tumor cell signaling, inflammation, angiogenesis and metastasis indicates that agents able to inhibit aberrant HSPG functions can potentially act as multitarget drugs affecting both tumor cell growth and the supportive boost provided by the microenvironment. Moreover, accumulating evidence supports that an altered expression or function of HSPGs, or of the complex enzyme system regulating their activities, can also depress the tumor response to anticancer treatments in several tumor types. Thereby, targeting HSPGs or HSPG modifying enzymes appears an appealing approach to enhance chemotherapy efficacy. A great deal of effort from academia and industry has led to the development of agents mimicking HS, and/or inhibiting HSPG modifying enzymes. Inhibitors of Sulf-2, an endosulfatase that edits the HS sulfation pattern, and inhibitors of heparanase, the endoglycosidase that produces functional HS fragments, appear particularly promising. In fact, a Sulf-2 inhibitor (OKN-007), and two heparanase inhibitors/HS mimics (roneparstat, PG545) are currently under early clinical investigation. In this review, we summarized preclinical studies in experimental tumor models of the main chemical classes of Sulf-2 and heparanase inhibitors. We described examples of different mechanisms through which heparanase and HSPGs, often in cooperation, may impact tumor sensitivity to various antitumor agents. Finally, we reported a few preclinical studies showing increased antitumor efficacy obtained with the use of candidate clinical HS mimics in combination regimens.
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