Theranostic Small-Molecule Prodrug Conjugates for Targeted Delivery and Controlled Release of Toll-like Receptor 7 Agonists

Sashi Debnath, Guiyang Hao, Bing Guan, Pawan Thapa, Justin Hao, Hans Hammers, Xiankai Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We previously reported the design and synthesis of a small-molecule drug conjugate (SMDC) platform that demonstrated several advantages over antibody–drug conjugates (ADCs) in terms of in vivo pharmacokinetics, solid tumor penetration, definitive chemical structure, and adaptability for modular synthesis. Constructed on a tri-modal SMDC platform derived from 1,3,5-triazine (TZ) that consists of a targeting moiety (Lys-Urea-Glu) for prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), here we report a novel class of chemically identical theranostic small-molecule prodrug conjugates (T-SMPDCs), [18/19 F]F-TZ(PSMA)-LEGU-TLR7, for PSMA-targeted delivery and controlled release of toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) agonists to elicit de novo immune response for cancer immunotherapy. In vitro competitive binding assay of [19 F]F-TZ(PSMA)-LEGU-TLR7 showed that the chemical modification of Lys-Urea-Glu did not compromise its binding affinity to PSMA. Receptor-mediated cell internalization upon the PSMA binding of [18 F]F-TZ(PSMA)-LEGU-TLR7 showed a time-dependent increase, indicative of targeted intracellular delivery of the theranostic prodrug conjugate. The designed controlled release of gardiquimod, a TLR7 agonist, was realized by a legumain cleavable linker. We further performed an in vivo PET/CT imaging study that showed significantly higher uptake of [18 F]F-TZ(PSMA)-LEGU-TLR7 in PSMA+ PC3-PIP tumors (1.9 ± 0.4% ID/g) than in PSMA PC3-Flu tumors (0.8 ± 0.3% ID/g) at 1 h post-injection. In addition, the conjugate showed a one-compartment kinetic profile and in vivo stability. Taken together, our proof-of-concept biological evaluation demonstrated the potential of our T-SMPDCs for cancer immunomodulatory therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7160
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • agonist
  • controlled release
  • immunomodulatory
  • legumain cleavable linker
  • positron emission tomography
  • prodrug
  • prostate cancer
  • theranostic
  • toll-like receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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