Combination of cancer-specific prodrug nanoparticle with Bcl-2 inhibitor to overcome acquired drug resistance

Jinseong Kim, Man Kyu Shim, Suah Yang, Yujeong Moon, Sukyung Song, Jiwoong Choi, Jeongrae Kim, Kwangmeyung Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Multiple combination therapies with chemotherapeutic drugs and inhibitors of drug resistance have been effective in the clinical cases, but concerns have been raised about the severe toxicity of these chemotherapeutic drugs. Herein, we report a potent and safe combination strategy of cancer-specific doxorubicin (DOX) prodrug nanoparticles (PNPs) and B-cell lymphoma-2 (Bcl-2) anti-apoptotic inhibitor, Navitoclax, to overcome acquired drug resistance during chemotherapy. The cancer-specific PNPs were constructed by conjugating cathepsin B-specific cleavable peptide (Phe-Arg-Arg-Gly; FRRG) to DOX, resulting in FRRG-DOX that self-assembled into nanoparticles and the FRRG-DOX nanoparticles were further stabilized with the FDA-approved pharmaceutical excipient, Pluronic F68. The resulting PNPs are specifically cleaved and metabolized to free DOX in cathepsin B-overexpressing cancer cells, but they exhibited minimal cytotoxicity in cathepsin B-deficient normal cells. As expected, free DOX and PNPs induced overexpression of Bcl-2 in MDA-MB-231 cells, due to acquired drug resistance in a cell culture system. However, combination therapy with PNPs and Navitoclax showed the outstanding synergetic cytotoxicity by decreasing the expression level of Bcl-2. In MDA-MB231 breast tumor-bearing mice, intravenously injected PNPs efficiently accumulated in targeted tumor tissues via enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect. When combined with orally administered Navitoclax, PNPs exhibited more potent therapeutic efficacy in aquired drug resistant models than free DOX plus Navitoclax, whereas PNPs greatly reduced systemic toxic side effects in normal organs. Our cancer-specific PNP-based combination therapy with Bcl-2 inhibitor may provide a promising approach for the potent and safe treatment of acquired drug-resistant cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)920-932
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Controlled Release
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported from the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Korea, funded by the Ministry of Science ( NRF-2019R1A2C3006283 ) of Republic of Korea, the KU-KIST Graduate School of Converging Science and Technology (Korea University), and the Intramural Research Program of KIST.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.


  • Bcl-2 inhibitor
  • Cancer-specific prodrug nanoparticles
  • Combination therapy
  • Drug resistance
  • Inhibitor of drug resistance


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