The effects of vesicle size, lipid composition, and drug-to-lipid ratio on the biological activity of liposomal doxorubicin in mice have been investigated using a versatile procedure for encapsulating doxorubicin inside liposomes. In this procedure, vesicles exhibiting transmembrane pH gradients (acidic inside) were employed to achieve drug trapping efficiencies in excess of 98%. Drug-to-lipid ratios as high as 0.3:1 (wt:wt) could be obtained in a manner that is relatively independent of lipid composition and vesicle size. Egg phosphatidylcholine (EPC)/cholesterol (55:45; mol/mol) vesicles sized through filters with a 200-nm pore size and loaded employing transmembrane pH gradients to achieve a doxorubicin-to-lipid ratio of 0.3:1 (wt/wt) increased the LD50 of free drug by approximately twofold. Removing cholesterol or decreasing the drug-to-lipid ratio in EPC/cholesterol preparations led to significant decreases in the LD50 of liposomal doxorubicin whereas, the LD50 increased 4- to 6- fold when distearoylphosphatidylcholine was substituted for EPC. The results suggest that the stability of liposomally entrapped doxorubicin in the circulation is an important factor in the toxicity of this drug in liposomal form. In contrast, the antitumor activity of liposomal doxorubicin is not influenced dramatically by alterations in lipid composition. Liposomal doxorubicin preparations of EPC, EPC/cholesterol (55:45; mol:mol), EPC/egg phosphatidylglycerol (EPG)/cholesterol (27.5:27.5:45; mol:mol), and distearoylphosphatidylcholine/cholesterol (55:45; mol:mol) all demonstrated similar efficacy to that of free drug when given at doses of 20 mg/kg and below. Higher dose levels of the less toxic formulations could be administered, leading to enhanced increase in life span (ILS) values. Variations in vesicle size, however, strongly influenced the antitumor activity of liposomal doxorubicin. At a dose of 20 mg/kg, large EPC/cholesterol systems are significantly less effective than free drug (with ILS values of 65% and 145%, respectively). In contrast, small systems sized through filters with a 100-nm pore size are more effective than free drug, resulting in an ILS of 375% and a 30% long term (greater than 60 days) survival rate when administered at a dose of 20 mg/kg. Similar size-dependent effects are observed for distearoylphosphatidylcholine/cholesterol systems.

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This research was supported by the National Cancer Institute of Canada and The Liposome Company, Inc. (Princeton, NJ).

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