Targeting the programmed cell death protein 1/programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) axis with monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) represents a crucial breakthrough in anticancer therapy, but mAbs are limited by their poor oral bioavailability, adverse events in multiple organ systems, and primary, adaptive, and acquired resistance, amongst other issues. More recently, the advent of small molecule inhibitors that target the PD-1/PD-L1 axis have shown promising cellular inhibitory activity and the potential to counteract the disadvantages of mAbs. In this study, structure-based virtual screening identified small molecule inhibitors that effectively inhibited the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction. Six of those small molecule inhibitors were applied to cell-based experiments targeting PD-1: CH-1, CH-2, CH-3, CH-4, CH-5, and CH-6. Of all 6, CH-4 displayed the lowest cytotoxicity and strongest inhibitory activity towards the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction. The experiments revealed that CH-4 inhibited the interaction of soluble form PD-L1 (sPD-L1) with PD-1 surface protein expressed by KG-1 cells. Investigations into CH-4 analogs revealed that CH-4.7 effectively blocked the PD-1/sPD-L1 interaction, but sustained the secretion of interleukin-2 and interferon-γ by Jurkat cells. Our experiments revealed a novel small molecule inhibitor that blocks the interaction of PD-1/sPD-L1 and potentially offers an alternative PD-1 target for immune checkpoint therapy.
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