The aberrant activation of STAT3 is associated with the etiology and progression in a variety of malignant epithelial-derived tumors, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) and colorectal cancer (CRC). Due to the lack of an enzymatic catalytic site or a ligand-binding pocket, there are no small-molecule inhibitors directly targeting STAT3 that have been approved for clinical translation. Emerging proteolysis targeting chimeric (PROTAC) technology–based approach represents a potential strategy to overcome the limitations of conventional inhibitors and inhibit activation of STAT3 and downstream genes. In this study, the heterobifunctional small-molecule–based PROTACs are successfully prepared from toosendanin (TSN), with 1 portion binding to STAT3 and the other portion binding to an E3 ubiquitin ligase. The optimized lead PROTAC (TSM-1) exhibits superior selectivity, potency, and robust antitumor effects in STAT3-dependent HNSCC and CRC — especially in clinically relevant patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and patient-derived organoids (PDO). The following mechanistic investigation identifies the reduced expression of critical downstream STAT3 effectors, through which TSM-1 promotes cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in tumor cells. These findings provide the first demonstration to our knowledge of a successful PROTAC-targeting strategy in STAT3-dependent epithelial cancer.


Jinmei Jin, Yaping Wu, Zeng Zhao, Ye Wu, Yu-dong Zhou, Sanhong Liu, Qingyan Sun, Guizhu Yang, Jiayi Lin, Dale G. Nagle, Jiangjiang Qin, Zhiyuan Zhang, Hong-zhuan Chen, Weidong Zhang, Shuyang Sun, Xin Luan


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