From ribavirin to NAD analogues and back to ribavirin in search for anticancer agents

Krzysztof W. Pankiewicz, Krzysztof Felczak

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Ribavirin, a broad-spectrum antiviral agent is used in the clinic alone or in combination with other antivirals and/or interferons. Numerous structural analogues of ribavirin have been developed, among them tiazofurin, which is inactive against viruses but is a potent anticancer drug. Tiazofurin was found to inhibit nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD)-dependent inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH) after metabolic conversion into tiazofurin adenine dinucleotide (TAD), which binds well but could not serve as IMPDH cofactor. TAD showed high selectivity against human IMPDH vs. other cellular dehydrogenases. Mycophenolic acid (MPA) was even more specific, binding at the cofactor-binding domain of IMPDH. Ribavirin adenine dinucleotide, however, did not show any significant inhibition at the enzymatic level. We synthesized numerous NAD analogues in which natural nicotinamide riboside was replaced by tiazofurin, MPA moiety, or benzamide riboside, and the adenosine moiety as well as the pyrophosphate linker were broadly modified. Some of these compounds were found to be low nanomolar inhibitors of the enzyme and sub-micromolar inhibitors of cancer cell line proliferation. The best were as potent as tyrosine kinase inhibitor gleevec heralded as a 'magic bullet' against chronic myelogenous leukemia. In recent years, ribavirin was rediscovered as a potential anticancer agent against number of tumors including leukemia. It was clearly established that its antitumor activity is related to the inhibition of an oncogene, the eukaryotic translation initiation factor (eIF4E).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-257
Number of pages9
JournalHeterocyclic Communications
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • anticancer agents
  • chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH)
  • mycophenolic acid
  • nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) analogues
  • ribavirin
  • tiazofurin


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