The broadly active glutamine antagonist 6-diazo-5-oxo-L-norleucine (DON) has been studied for 60 years as a potential anticancer therapeutic. Clinical studies of DON in the 1950s using low daily doses suggested antitumor activity, but later phase I and II trials of DON given intermittently at high doses were hampered by dose-limiting nausea and vomiting. Further clinical development of DON was abandoned. Recently, the recognition that multiple tumor types are glutamine-dependent has renewed interest in metabolic inhibitors such as DON. Here, we describe the prior experience with DON in humans. Evaluation of past studies suggests that the major impediments to successful clinical use included unacceptable gastrointestinal (GI) toxicities, inappropriate dosing schedules for a metabolic inhibitor, and lack of targeted patient selection. To circumvent GI toxicity, prodrug strategies for DON have been developed to enhance delivery of active compound to tumor tissues, including the CNS. When these prodrugs are administered in a low daily dosing regimen, appropriate for metabolic inhibition, they are robustly effective without significant toxicity. Patients whose tumors have genetic, metabolic, or imaging biomarker evidence of glutamine dependence should be prioritized as candidates for future clinical evaluations of novel DON prodrugs, given either as monotherapy or in rationally directed pharmacologic combinations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research