Targeting heparan sulfate proteoglycans and their modifying enzymes to enhance anticancer chemotherapy efficacy and overcome drug resistance

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Targeting heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) and enzymes involved in heparan sulfate (HS) chain editing is emerging as a new anticancer strategy. The involvement of HSPGs in tumor cell signaling, inflammation, angiogenesis and metastasis indicates that agents able to inhibit aberrant HSPG functions can potentially act as multitarget drugs affecting both tumor cell growth and the supportive boost provided by the microenvironment. Moreover, accumulating evidence supports that an altered expression or function of HSPGs, or of the complex enzyme system regulating their activities, can also depress the tumor response to anticancer treatments in several tumor types. Thereby, targeting HSPGs or HSPG modifying enzymes appears an appealing approach to enhance chemotherapy efficacy. A great deal of effort from academia and industry has led to the development of agents mimicking HS, and/or inhibiting HSPG modifying enzymes. Inhibitors of Sulf-2, an endosulfatase that edits the HS sulfation pattern, and inhibitors of heparanase, the endoglycosidase that produces functional HS fragments, appear particularly promising. In fact, a Sulf-2 inhibitor (OKN-007), and two heparanase inhibitors/HS mimics (roneparstat, PG545) are currently under early clinical investigation. In this review, we summarized preclinical studies in experimental tumor models of the main chemical classes of Sulf-2 and heparanase inhibitors. We described examples of different mechanisms through which heparanase and HSPGs, often in cooperation, may impact tumor sensitivity to various antitumor agents. Finally, we reported a few preclinical studies showing increased antitumor efficacy obtained with the use of candidate clinical HS mimics in combination regimens.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2860-2886
Number of pages27
JournalCurrent Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number26
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Anticancer chemotherapy
  • Anticancer drug resistance
  • Heparan sulfate mimic
  • Heparan sulfate proteoglycan
  • Heparanase
  • Heparanase inhibitor
  • Sulfatase inhibitor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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