Prodrugs--from Serendipity to Rational Design

School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, P.O. Box 1627, FI-70211 Kuopio, Finland.
Pharmacological reviews (Impact Factor: 17.1). 09/2011; 63(3):750-71. DOI: 10.1124/pr.110.003459
Source: PubMed


The prodrug concept has been used to improve undesirable properties of drugs since the late 19th century, although it was only at the end of the 1950s that the actual term prodrug was introduced for the first time. Prodrugs are inactive, bioreversible derivatives of active drug molecules that must undergo an enzymatic and/or chemical transformation in vivo to release the active parent drug, which can then elicit its desired pharmacological effect in the body. In most cases, prodrugs are simple chemical derivatives that are only one or two chemical or enzymatic steps away from the active parent drug. However, some prodrugs lack an obvious carrier or promoiety but instead result from a molecular modification of the prodrug itself, which generates a new active compound. Numerous prodrugs designed to overcome formulation, delivery, and toxicity barriers to drug utilization have reached the market. In fact, approximately 20% of all small molecular drugs approved during the period 2000 to 2008 were prodrugs. Although the development of a prodrug can be very challenging, the prodrug approach represents a feasible way to improve the erratic properties of investigational drugs or drugs already on the market. This review introduces in depth the rationale behind the use of the prodrug approach from past to present, and also considers the possible problems that can arise from inadequate activation of prodrugs.

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