Polymeric Encapsulation of a Ruthenium(II) Polypyridyl Complex: From Synthesis to in vivo Studies against High-Grade Epithelial Ovarian Cancer



The in vitro to in vivo translation of metal-based cytotoxic drugs has proven to be a significant hurdle in their establishment as effective anti-cancer alternatives. Various nano-delivery systems, such as polymeric nanoparticles, have been explored to address the pharmacokinetic limitations associated with the use of these complexes. However, these systems often suffer from poor stability or involve complex synthetic procedures. To circumvent these problems, we report here a simple, one-pot procedure for the preparation of covalently-attached Ru-polylactide nanoparticles. This methodology relies on the ring-opening polymerization of lactide initiated by a calcium alkoxide derivative formed from calcium bis(trimethylsilyl amide) and a hydroxyl-bearing ruthenium complex. This procedure proceeds with high efficiency (near-quantitative incorporation of Ru in the polymer) and enables the preparation of polymers with varying molecular weights (2000-11000 Da) and high drug loadings (up to 68% w/w). These polymers were formulated as narrowly dispersed nanoparticles (110 nm) that exhibited a slow and predictable release of the ruthenium payload. Unlike standard encapsulation methods routinely used, the release kinetics of these nanoparticles is controlled (no ‘burst released’ was observed) and may be adjusted on demand, by tuning the size of the polymer chain. In terms of cytotoxicity, the nanoparticles were assessed in the ovarian cancer cell line A2780 and displayed potency comparable to cisplatin and the free drug, in the low micromolar range. Interestingly, the activity was maintained when tested in a cisplatin-resistant cell line, suggesting a possible orthogonal mechanism of action. Additionally, the internalization in tumour cells was found to be significantly higher than the free ruthenium complex (> 200 times in some cases), clearly showcasing the added benefit in the drug’s cellular permeation and accumulation of the drug. Finally, the in vivo performance was evaluated for the first time in mice. The experiments showed that the intravenously injected nanoparticles were well tolerated and were able to significantly improve the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of the parent drug. Not only was the nanosystem able to promote an 18-fold increase in tumour accumulation, but it also allowed a considerable reduction of drug accumulation in vital organs, achieving, for example, reduction levels of 90% and 97% in the brain and lungs respectively. In summary, this simple and efficient one-pot procedure enables the generation of stable and predictable nanoparticles capable of improving the cellular penetration and systemic accumulation of the Ru drug in the tumour. Altogether, these results showcase the potential of covalently-loaded ruthenium polylactide nanoparticles and pave the way for its exploitation and application as a viable tool in the treatment of ovarian cancer.