MM-398 (aka PEP02) is a stable, nanotherapeutic encapsulation of the pro-drug CPT-11 (irinotecan) that is currently in clinical development. In preclinical experiments, treatment with MM-398 resulted in significantly higher intratumoral concentrations of both irinotecan (142-fold) and its major metabolite, SN-38 (9-fold) and exhibited superior anti-tumor activity compared to free irinotecan in multiple tumor xenografts. Subsequently, multiple phase 1 and 2 studies have established a pharmacokinetic and safety profile that supports continued clinical development, including in pancreatic, gastric, colorectal and potentially other cancers.

Because current evidence suggests that resistance to pancreatic cancer is driven largely by inadequate drug penetration into these often poorly vascularized, stromally dense and hypoxic tumors, we sought to better understand how this relatively large (100nm) liposomal nanotherapeutic could potentially result in increased efficacy in very advanced gemcitabine-resistant pancreatic cancer and other cancer types.

We developed a mechanism-based PK model of MM-398 and free irinotecan designed to predict intratumor SN-38 levels. Sensitivity analysis revealed that for MM-398 local activation of irinotecan to SN-38 was a far more important parameter than systemic activation. Through cellular uptake studies, we demonstrated in vitro that MM-398 was preferentially internalized by phagocytic macrophage/monocyte cell lines and, to a far lesser extent, by tumor cell lines. Furthermore, tumor microdistribution studies by flow cytometry and IHC showed uptake of MM-398 liposomes in both tumor cells and tumor-associated macrophages with more liposomal material being present in the macrophages. This distribution also suggests that macrophages may contribute to the postulated rate limiting process of irinotecan activation.

The sensitivity analysis also suggested that tumor permeability and vascularization are important determinants of tumor-associated SN-38 levels for both free irinotecan and MM-398. To determine the effect of MM-398 on these parameters we treated mice bearing HT29 (colorectal cancer) xenografts with a single dose of MM-398 and measured hypoxic markers (CAIX) and microvessel density (CD31) by IHC. Tumors treated with MM-398 showed a greater degree of CD31 staining and lower CAIX staining, indicating that MM-398 may be able to affect tumor characteristics that traditionally have contributed to therapy resistance and limited the delivery of cancer therapeutics and resistance.

In summary, encapsulation of irinotecan alters rate-limiting processes that determine tumoral SN-38 levels. Delivery of MM-398 is believed to alter tumor microvessel density and decrease hypoxia. These intriguing mechanisms of action findings support the continued clinical development of MM-398 as a differentiated therapeutic for several cancer types.

Citation Format: {Authors}. {Abstract title} [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference: Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics; 2011 Nov 12-16; San Francisco, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Mol Cancer Ther 2011;10(11 Suppl):Abstract nr C207.