Photochemical internalization (PCI) is a further development of photodynamic therapy (PDT). In this report, we describe PCI as a potential tool for cellular internalization of chemotherapeutic agents or antigens and systematically review the ongoing research. Eighteen published papers described the pre-clinical and clinical developments of PCI-mediated delivery of chemotherapeutic agents or antigens. The studies were screened against pre-defined eligibility criteria. Pre-clinical studies suggest that PCI can be effectively used to deliver chemotherapeutic agents to the cytosol of tumor cells and, thereby, improve treatment efficacy. One Phase-I clinical trial has been conducted, and it demonstrated that PCI-mediated bleomycin treatment was safe and identified tolerable doses of the photosensitizer disulfonated tetraphenyl chlorin (TPCS2a
). Likewise, PCI was pre-clinically shown to mediate major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigen presentation and generation of tumor-specific cytotoxic CD8+ T-lymphocytes (CTL) and cancer remission. A first clinical Phase I trial with the photosensitizer TPCS2a
combined with human papilloma virus antigen (HPV) was recently completed and results are expected in 2020. Hence, photosensitizers and light can be used to mediate cytosolic delivery of endocytosed chemotherapeutics or antigens. While the therapeutic potential in cancer has been clearly demonstrated pre-clinically, further clinical trials are needed to reveal the true translational potential of PCI in humans.
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