Amino acid ester prodrugs of the anticancer agent gemcitabine: Synthesis, bioconversion, metabolic bioevasion, and hPEPT1-mediated transport

Xueqin Song, Philip L. Lorenzi, Christopher P. Landowski, Balvinder S. Vig, John M. Hilfinger, Gordon L. Amidon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

105 Citations (Scopus)


Gemcitabine, a clinically effective nucleoside anticancer agent, is a polar drug with low membrane permeability and is administered intravenously. Further, extensive degradation of gemcitabine by cytidine deaminase to an inactive metabolite in the liver affects its activity adversely. Thus, strategies that provide both enhanced transport and high metabolic bioevasion would potentially lead to oral alternatives that may be clinically useful. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether amino acid ester prodrugs of gemcitabine would (a) facilitate transport across intestinal membranes or across cells that express hPEPT1 and (b) provide resistance to deamination by cytidine deaminase. 3′-Monoester, 5′-monoester, and 3′,5′-diester prodrugs of gemcitabine utilizing aliphatic (L-valine, D-valine, and L-isoleucine) and aromatic (L-phenylalanine and D-phenylalanine) amino acids as promoieties were synthesized and evaluated for their affinity and direct hPEPT1-mediated transport in HeLa/hPEPT1 cells. All prodrugs exhibited enhanced affinity (IC 50 : 0.14-0.16 mM) for the transporter. However, only the 5′-L-valyl and 5′-L-isoleucyl monoester prodrugs exhibited (a) increased uptake (11.25- and 5.64-fold, respectively) in Hel_a/hPEPT1 cells compared to HeLa cells and (b) chemical stability in buffers, that were comparable to valacyclovir, a commercially marketed oral amino acid ester prodrug. The widely disparate enzymatic bioconversion profiles of the 5′-L-valyl and 5′-L-isoleucyl prodrugs in Caco-2 cell homogenates along with their significant resistance to deamination by cytidine deaminase suggest that the disposition of gemcitabine following oral administration would be controlled by the rate of bioconversion following transport across the intestinal epithelial membrane. The combined results also suggest that it may be possible to modulate these characteristics by the choice of the amino acid promoiety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-167
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2005
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Amino acid esters
  • Cytidine deaminase
  • Gemcitabine
  • Peptide transporter
  • Prodrug


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