Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kyung Bo Kim


The proteasome is a large protein complex which is responsible for the majority of protein degradation in eukaryotes. Following FDA approval of the first proteasome inhibitor bortezomib for the treatment of multiple myeloma (MM) in 2003, there has been an increasing awareness of the significant therapeutic potential of proteasome inhibitors in the treatment of cancer. As of 2017, three proteasome inhibitors are approved for the treatment of MM but in clinical trials with patients bearing solid tumors these existing proteasome inhibitors have demonstrated poor results. Notably, all three FDA-approved proteasome inhibitors rely on the combination a peptide backbone and reactive electrophilic warhead to target the proteasome, and all three primarily target the catalytic subunits conferring the proteasome’s chymotrypsin-like (CT-L) activity.

It is our hypothesis that compounds with non-peptidic structures, non-covalent and reversible modes of action, and unique selectivity profiles against the proteasome’s distinct catalytic subunits could have superior pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties and may bear improved activity against solid tumors relative to existing proteasome inhibitors. In an effort to discover such compounds we have employed an approach which combines computational drug screening methods with conventional screening and classic medicinal chemistry.

Our efforts began with a computational screen performed in the lab of Dr. Chang-Guo Zhan. This virtual screen narrowed a library of over 300,000 drug-like compounds down to under 300 virtual hits which were then screened for proteasome inhibitory activity in an in vitro assay. Despite screening a relatively small pool of compounds, we were able to identify 18 active compounds. The majority of these hits were non-peptide in structure and lacked any hallmarks of covalent inhibition. The further development of one compound, a tri-substituted pyrazole, provided us with a proteasome inhibitor which demonstrated cytotoxic activity in a variety of human solid cancer cell lines as well as significant anti-tumor activity in a prostate cancer mouse xenograft model. We have also evaluated the in vitro pharmacokinetic properties of our lead compound and investigated its ability to evade cross-resistance phenomena in proteasome inhibitor-resistant cell lines.

We believe that our lead compound as well as our drug discovery approach itself will be of interest and use to other researchers. We hope that this research effort may aid in the further development of reversible non-peptide proteasome inhibitors and may eventually deliver new therapeutic options for patients with difficult-to-treat solid tumors.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)