A bioinspired redox-modulating copper(ii)–macrocyclic complex bearing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with anti-cancer stem cell activity†
Copper(II) coordination compounds have been investigated for their anticancer properties for decades, however, none have reached advanced human clinical trials. The poor translation of copper(II) complexes from in vitro studies to (pre)clinical studies can be attributed to their limited efficacy in animal models, which is largely associated with copper leaching and speciation (in biological fluids). Here we report a biologically stable copper(II) complex based on the active site of Type I Cu electron transport proteins. The copper(II) complex 1 comprises of dithiacyclam (with soft and hard donor atoms) and two diclofenac units, a nonsteriodial anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Extensive biophysical and electrochemical studies show that the solid state structure of 1 is preserved in solution and that it can access both copper(I) and copper(II) oxidation states without leaching copper or undergoing speciation (in the presence of a cellular reductant). Cell studies show that 1 kills bulk breast cancer cells and highly resistant breast cancer stem cells (CSCs) at micromolar concentrations, and is significantly less toxic towards a panel of non-cancerous cells. Clinically relevant spheroid studies show that 1 is able to inhibit breast CSC-enriched mammosphere formation to a similar extent as salinomycin, a gold standard anti-CSC agent. Mechanistic studies show that 1 evokes breast CSC death by elevating intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) and inhibiting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) activity. The former leads to the activation of stress pathways (JNK and p38), which culminates in caspase-dependent apoptosis. This study reinforces the therapeutic potential of copper(II)–NSAID complexes and provides a bioinspired route to develop stable, ROS-generating copper-based anti-CSC drug candidates.