Histone deacetylases (HDACs) play critical roles in epigenomic regulation, and histone acetylation is dysregulated in many human cancers. Although HDAC inhibitors are active in T-cell lymphomas, poor isoform selectivity, narrow therapeutic indices, and a deficiency of reliable biomarkers may contribute to the lack of efficacy in solid tumors. In this article, we report the discovery and preclinical development of the novel, orally bioavailable, class-I–selective HDAC inhibitor, OKI-179. OKI-179 and its cell active predecessor OKI-005 are thioester prodrugs of the active metabolite OKI-006, a unique congener of the natural product HDAC inhibitor largazole. OKI-006, OKI-005, and subsequently OKI-179, were developed through a lead candidate optimization program designed to enhance physiochemical properties without eroding potency and selectivity relative to largazole. OKI-005 displays antiproliferative activity in vitro with induction of apoptosis and increased histone acetylation, consistent with target engagement. OKI-179 showed antitumor activity in preclinical cancer models with a favorable pharmacokinetic profile and on-target pharmacodynamic effects. Based on its potency, desirable class I HDAC inhibition profile, oral bioavailability, and efficacy against a broad range of solid tumors, OKI-179 is currently being evaluated in a first-in-human phase I clinical trial with plans for continued clinical development in solid tumor and hematologic malignancies.

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