Molecular hybridization has proven to be a successful multi-target strategy in the design and development of new antitumor agents. Based on this rational approach, we have planned hybrid molecules containing covalently linked pharmacophoric units, present individually in compounds acting as inhibitors of the cancer protein targets tubulin, human topoisomerase II and ROCK1. Seven new molecules, selected by docking calculation of the complexes with each of the proteins taken into consideration, have been efficiently synthesized starting from 2,3-dichloro-1,4-naphtoquinone or 6,7-dichloro-5,8-quinolinquinone. By screening the full National Cancer Institute (NCI) panel, including 60 human cancer cell lines, four molecules displayed good and sometimes better growth inhibition GI50
than the ROCK inhibitor Y-27632, the Topo II inhibitor podophyllotoxin and the tubulin inhibitor combretastatin A-4. The relative position of N,N
heteroatoms in the structures of the tested compounds was crucial in affecting bioactivity and selectivity. Furthermore, compound 3
(2-(4-(2-hydroxyethyl)piperazin-1-yl)-3-(3,4,5-trimethoxyphenoxy)naphthalene-1,4-dione) emerged as the most active in the series, showing a potent and selective inhibition of breast cancer BT-549 cells (GI50
< 10 nM).
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