Design and Synthesis of Orally Bioavailable Sphingosine Kinase 2 Selective Inhibitors

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Virginia Tech


In humans, mammals, and perhaps all vertebrates, sphingolipids exist as a family of cellular signaling molecules and have been shown to be involved in a wide range of biological processes ranging from proliferation to apoptosis. As such, sphingolipid signaling has garnered the attention of numerous researchers as an attractive candidate for pharmacological manipulation. The synthetic pathway of one prominent sphingolipid, sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), has been implicated in a variety of disease states such as cancer, sickle cell disease, multiple sclerosis, and renal fibrosis. Formation of S1P is facilitated from the ATP dependent phosphorylation of sphingosine (Sph) through its generative enzyme's sphingosine kinase 1 and 2 (SphK1 and SphK2). Inhibition of SphK1 and SphK2 results in the manipulation of S1P levels, which has been shown to be therapeutic in various animal models of disease. While there are multiple examples of potent SphK1-selective and dual SphK1/2 inhibitors, SphK2-selective inhibitors are scarce.

Herein, we describe the design, synthesis and biological testing of SphK2-selective inhibitors. We first describe the discovery that introducing a trifluoromethyl group onto the internal aryl ring of our inhibitor scaffold led to superior selectivity and potency towards SphK2. We demonstrate that the trifluoromethyl moiety is interacting with a previously unknown side cavity in the substrate binding site of SphK2 that is unique and could be exploited in the design of SphK2-selective inhibitors. The synthesis of 21 derivatives with various substituents spanning off the internal aryl ring was completed, therefore characterizing the preferred size and chemical nature of moieties positioned in that portion of the binding site. This work led to the development of the most potent SphK2-selective inhibitor known at the time. We then describe the transformation of our SphK2-selective inhibitors into an orally bioavailable drug. We explain how the guanidine functionality on our inhibitor scaffold hinders our compounds from being orally bioavailable. Consequently, a library of 24 derivatives with various modifications to the guanidine functionality was synthesized and evaluated for improved orally bioavailability. Highlighted in this work is the development of the most potent SphK2-selective inhibitor currently known 3.14 (SLS1081832), which displays a hSphK2 Ki of 82 nM and 122-fold selectivity for SphK2. Chemical modification and in vivo assessment of 3.14 (SLS1081832) prodrugs was explored.



Sphingosine Kinase, SphK2, Sphingosine, Sphingosine 1-Phosphate, S1P, Inhibitor, SAR, Molecular Docking, Guanidine, Prodrug, Oral Bioavailability