Background: The targeted delivery of cancer therapeutics represents an ongoing challenge in the field of drug development. TRAIL is a promising cancer drug but its activity profile could benefit from a cancer-selective delivery mechanism, which would reduce potential side effects and increase treatment efficiencies. We recently developed the novel TRAIL-based drug platform TR3, a genetically fused trimer with the capacity for further molecular modifications such as the addition of tumor-directed targeting moieties. MUC16 (CA125) is a well characterized biomarker in several human malignancies including ovarian, pancreatic and breast cancer. Mesothelin is known to interact with MUC16 with high affinity. In order to deliver TR3 selectively to MUC16-expressing cancers, we investigated the possibility of targeted TR3 delivery employing the high affinity mesothelin/MUC16 ligand/receptor interaction.Methods: Using genetic engineering, we designed the novel cancer drug Meso-TR3, a fusion protein between native mesothelin and TR3. The recombinant proteins were produced with mammalian HEK293T cells. Meso-TR3 was characterized for binding selectivity and killing efficacy against MUC16-positive cancer cells and controls that lack MUC16 expression. Drug efficacy experiments were performed in vitro and in vivo employing an intraperitoneal xenograft mouse model of ovarian cancer.Results: Similar to soluble mesothelin itself, the strong MUC16 binding property was retained in the Meso-TR3 fusion protein. The high affinity ligand/receptor interaction was associated with a selective accumulation of the cancer drug on MUC16-expressing cancer targets and directly correlated with increased killing activity in vitro and in a xenograft mouse model of ovarian cancer. The relevance of the mesothelin/MUC16 interaction for attaching Meso-TR3 to the cancer cells was verified by competitive blocking experiments using soluble mesothelin. Mechanistic studies using soluble DR5-Fc and caspase blocking assays confirmed engagement of the extrinsic death receptor pathway. Compared to non-targeted TR3, Meso-TR3 displayed a much reduced killing potency on cells that lack MUC16.Conclusions: Soluble Meso-TR3 targets the cancer biomarker MUC16 in vitro and in vivo. Following attachment to the tumor via surface bound MUC16, Meso-TR3 acquires full activation with superior killing profiles compared to non-targeted TR3, while its bioactivity is substantially reduced on cells that lack the tumor marker. This prodrug phenomenon represents a highly desirable property because it has the potential to enhance cancer killing with fewer side-effects than non-targeted TRAIL-based therapeutics. Thus, further exploration of this novel fusion protein is warranted as a possible therapeutic for patients with MUC16-positive malignancies.
- Fusion protein