A Ruthenium(II) Complex Containing a Redox-Active Semiquinonate Ligand as Potential Chemotherapeutic Agent: From Synthesis to In Vivo Studies

Chemotherapy remains one of the dominant treatments to cure cancer. However, due to the many inherent drawbacks, there is a surge for new chemotherapeutic drugs. More specifically, the discovery of new drug candidates able to overcome severe side effects, the occurrence of resistance and the inefficacy toward metastatic tumours is highly desirable. In this work, we designed a new chemotherapeutic drug candidate against cancer, namely [Ru(DIP)2(sq)]PF6 (Ru-sq) (DIP = 4,7-diphenyl-1,10-phenanthroline; sq = semiquinonate ligand). The aim was to combine the great potential expressed by Ru(II) polypyridyl complexes and the singular redox and biological properties associated to the catecholate moiety. Several pieces of experimental evidence (e.g., X-ray crystallography, electron paramagnetic resonance, electrochemistry) demonstrate that the semiquinonate is the preferred oxidation state of the dioxo ligand in this complex. The biological activity of Ru-sq was then scrutinised in vitro and in vivo, and the results highlight the tremendous potential of this complex as a chemotherapeutic agent against cancer. Ru-sq was notably found have a much higher cytotoxic activity than cisplatin on several cell lines (i.e. in the nanomolar range), and, contrary to cisplatin, to have mitochondrial disfunction as one of its modes of action. The multicellular targets of Ru-sq could potentially be the key to overcome one of the main drawbacks of cisplatin i.e. the occurrence of resistance. Moreover, Ru-sq exhibited impressing activity on Multi Cellular Tumour Spheroids (MCTS) model, leading to a growth inhibition of the tumour even 13 days after treatment (20 μM). Very importantly, using two different in vivo models, it could be demonstrated that this compound is extremely well-tolerated by mice and has a very promising activity, curing, in some cases, tumour-bearing mice.