Photoswitchable Azo- and Diazocine-Functionalized Derivatives of the VEGFR-2 Inhibitor Axitinib

In this study, we aimed at the application of the concept of photopharmacology to the approved vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR)-2 kinase inhibitor axitinib. In a previous study, we found out that the photoisomerization of axitinib's stilbene-like double bond is unidirectional in aqueous solution due to a competing irreversible [2+2]-cycloaddition. Therefore, we next set out to azologize axitinib by means of incorporating azobenzenes as well as diazocine moieties as photoresponsive elements. Conceptually, diazocines (bridged azobenzenes) show favorable photoswitching properties compared to standard azobenzenes because the thermodynamically stable Z-isomer usually is bioinactive, and back isomerization from the bioactive E-isomer occurs thermally. Here, we report on the development of different sulfur-diazocines and carbon-diazocines attached to the axitinib pharmacophore that allow switching the VEGFR-2 activity reversibly. For the best sulfur-diazocine, we could verify in a VEGFR-2 kinase assay that the Z-isomer is biologically inactive (IC50 >> 10,000 nM), while significant VEGFR-2 inhibition can be observed after irradiation with blue light (405 nm), resulting in an IC50 value of 214 nM. In summary, we could successfully develop reversibly photoswitchable kinase inhibitors that exhibit more than 40-fold differences in biological activities upon irradiation. Moreover, we demonstrate the potential advantage of diazocine photoswitches over standard azobenzenes.


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