About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« FullCell 1.0? | Main | Kinases and Their Komplications »

August 16, 2004

Clay Lies Still, But Blood's A Rover

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

When a drug makes it into the bloodstream (which is no sure thing, on my side of the business), it doesn't just float around by itself. Blood itself is full of all kinds of stuff, and there are many things in it that can interact with drug molecules.

For one thing, compounds can actually wander in and out of red blood cells. This usually isn't a big deal, but once in a while a compound will find a binding site in there, which had flippin' well better not be on the hemoglobin protein. Depending on the on- and off-rates, this can either add a welcome time-release feature to the dosing or it can be a real pain. I haven't heard as much about interactions with white cells, but since they're a much smaller fraction of the total blood it's not something we'd be likely to notice.

More commonly, drugs stick to some sort of plasma protein. The most common one is serum albumin, and another big player is alpha-1 acid glycoprotein, or AGP. Albumin's found in large amounts and has several distinct binding sites. Acidic drugs are well known to hold on to it. As far as I'm aware, no one's absolutely sure what it's there for, but it must be pretty important. The multiple binding sites make it seem like could be some sort of concentration buffer for several different substances, but which ones? (I've never heard of an albumin knockout mouse - I assume that it would be lethal.)

The same comments about good and bad effects apply. A lot of effort has gone into schemes to predict plasma protein behavior, with success that I can charitably describe as "limited."The real test is to expose your compounds to fresh blood and see if you can get them back out. Some degree of protein binding is welcome, and you can go on up to 99% without seeing any odd effects. But at 99-and-some-nines you can start to assume that something is wrong, and that the interaction is too tight for everyone's good.

But when you're doing your blood assay, you had better make sure to try it with all the species that you're going to be dosing in. There's a kinase inhibitor from a few years back called UCN-01 that provides a cautionary tale. It was dosed up to high levels in rats and dogs, wasn't bad, and passed its toxicology tests, and went into human trials. They started out at one-tenth the maximum tolerated rat dose in the Phase I volunteers, which should be a good margin. But when they got the blood samples worked up, everyone just about fell out of their chairs.

There was at least ten times the amount of drug circulating around than they'd expected, because it was all stuck to AGP and it just wasn't coming off. A single dose of the drug had a half-life in humans of about 45 days, which must be some sort of record. Well, you might think, what's the problem. A once-a-month drug, right? But it doesn't work like that: the compound was so tightly bound that it would never reach the tumor cells that it was supposed to treat. All it was doing was just riding around in the blood. And the clinical program really dodged one from the safety perspective, too, because as they escalated the dose they would have eventually saturated all the binding that the AGP had to offer. Then the next higher dose would have dumped a huge overage of free drug into the blood, and all at once. Not what you're looking for.

The compound is still being investigated, but it's having a rough time of it. It's been in numerous Phase I trials, with all sorts of dosing schedules. A look through the literature shows that the compound is mainly being used as a tool in cell assays, where there's no human AGP to complicate things. With so many kinase inhibitors out there being developed, it's going to be hard to find a place for one with such weird behavior.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Pharmacokinetics


1. Peter Ellis on August 17, 2004 3:05 AM writes...

To the best of my knowledge, the main functions of serum albumin are in maintenance of oncotic pressure and fatty acid binding/transport.

Permalink to Comment

2. John Johnson on August 17, 2004 9:57 AM writes...

I don't know how many lab plots/tables I've seen of albumin and AGP. It's good to hear an explanation (however detailed it can be) of the biochemistry behind some of these measurements. (For the most part, lab plots in the clinical development trials just flag abnormal values so that the MD's can say something about it.)

Your recent posts bring me to the following question. Back in my last year of grad school in statistics, I heard of a new field of "combinatorial chemistry." The idea behind it was that if you did every possible combination of "tweaks" to a molecule (i.e. a "factorial design"), you'd be testing for millions of years. The goal of the combinatorial part of combinatorial chemistry is to provide a "tweaking plan" for a molecule so that you can get the estimates/uncertainty estimates you want, without taking so long to do it. My question is how is this done on the chemist's side? (I've only had basic college chemistry, and that was about 15 years ago.)

Permalink to Comment

3. Daniel Newby on August 17, 2004 4:18 PM writes...

Regarding drugs in white blood cells, the info for the antibiotic azithromycin says "Azithromycin concentrates in phagocytes and fibroblasts as demonstrated by in vitro incubation techniques. ... In vivo studies suggest that concentration in phagocytes may contribute to drug distribution to inflamed tissues."


Permalink to Comment

4. Derek Lowe on August 17, 2004 4:39 PM writes...

I didn't know that about azithromycin - that's a useful pharmacokinetic effect in that case, for sure. And I supposed that some erythrocyte binding (as long as it had a good off rate) might help a little in a CNS drug, considering how thoroughly the brain is perfused. Of course, there's that small matter of the endothelial blood/brain barrier to worry about. Differences in drug permeability across that can wipe out any tiny advantages or disadvantages in other areas.

Permalink to Comment

5. Derek Lowe on August 17, 2004 4:46 PM writes...

As for combinatorial chemistry, I've been meaning to write a post-mortem on that for a while now, which pharse should give you a quick idea of things right there. For now, this post has a few details on what's happened. There's a good cover story in a recent Chemical and Engineering News on this topic that I'll link to if the full text is available.

Permalink to Comment


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry