Farnesyl Pyrophosphate Synthase as a Target for Drug Development: Discovery of Natural-Product-Derived Inhibitors and Their Activity in Pancreatic Cancer Cells

Shuai Han, Xin Li, Yun Xia, Zhengsen Yu, Ningning Cai, Satish R. Malwal, Xu Han, Eric Oldfield, Yonghui Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Human farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase (Homo sapiens FPPS, HsFPPS) is a target for treating bone resorption diseases and some cancers. HsFPPS is potently inhibited by bisphosphonates, but due to poor cell penetration and distribution in soft tissue, there is currently interest in the development of non-bisphosphonate inhibitors as cancer therapeutics. Here, we report the discovery and development of HsFPPS inhibitors based on the phenolic diterpene carnosic acid (CA), an antimicrobial found in rosemary and sage, which showed better cellular anticancer activities than the bisphosphonate drug zoledronate in pancreatic cancer cell lines, as well as an HsFPPS-dependent mechanism of action. Hit-to-lead optimization of CA improved HsFPPS inhibition by >100-fold. A slow dissociation inhibition pattern and a noncompetitive allosteric binding mode were found, and cellular mechanism-of-action studies showed that these inhibitors inhibit tumor cell growth primarily by inhibiting HsFPPS, leading to downregulation of Ras prenylation and cell apoptosis. The discovery of this series of compounds together with proof-of-mechanism in pancreatic cancer cells may pave the way for targeting HsFPPS in soft tissue cancers using natural-product-derived inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10867-10896
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Medicinal Chemistry
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 12 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery

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