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Development of Tridentate Iron Chelators: From Desferrithiocin to ICL670

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Successful treatment of ß-thalassemia requires two key elements: blood transfusion and iron chelation. Regular blood transfusions considerably expand the lifespan of patients, however, without the removal of the consequential accumulation of body iron, few patients live beyond their second decade. In 1963, the introduction of desferrioxamine (DFO), a hexadentate chelator, marked a breakthrough in the treatment of ß-thalassemia. DFO significantly reduces body iron burden and iron-related morbidity and mortality. DFO is still the only drug for general use in the treatment of transfusion dependent iron overload. However, its very short plasma half-life and poor oral activity necessitate special modes of application (subcutaneous or intravenous infusion) which are inconvenient, can cause local reactions and are difficult to be accepted by many patients.

Over the past four decades, many different laboratories have invested major efforts in the identification of orally active iron chelators from several hundreds of molecules of synthetic, microbial or plant origin. The discovery of ferrithiocin in 1980, followed by the synthesis of the tridentate chelator desferrithiocin and proof of its oral activity raised a lot of hope. However, the compound proved to be toxic in animals. Over a period of about fifteen years many desferrithiocin derivatives and molecules with broader alterations led to the discovery of numerous new compounds some of which were much better tolerated and were more efficacious than desferrithiocin in animals, however, none was safe enough to proceed to the clinical use. The discovery of a new chemical class of iron chelators: The bishydroxyphenyltriazoles re-energized the search for a safe tridentate chelator. The basic structure of this completely new chemical class of iron chelators was discovered by a combination of rational design, intuition and experience. More than forty derivatives of the triazole series were synthesized at Novartis. These compounds were evaluated, together with more than 700 chelators from various chemical classes. Using vigorous selection criteria with a focus on tolerability, the tridentate chelator 4-[(3,5-Bis-(2-hydroxyphenyl)-1,2,4)triazol-1-yl]-benzoic acid (ICL670) emerged as an entity which best combined high oral potency and tolerability in animals. ICL670 is presently being evaluated in the clinic.

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Keywords: ICL670; desferal; desferrithiocin; iron chelation; overload; pharmacology; thalassemia

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: 2003-06-01

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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