The remodelling of the extracellular matrix (ECM) has been shown to be highly upregulated in cancer and inflammation and is critically linked to the processes of invasion and metastasis. One of the key enzymes involved in specifically degrading the heparan sulphate (HS) component of the ECM is the endo-β-glucuronidase enzyme heparanase. Processing of HS by heparanase releases both a host of bioactive growth factors anchored within the mesh of the ECM as well as defined fragments of HS capable of promoting cellular proliferation. The finding that heparanase is elevated in a wide variety of tumor types and is subsequently linked to the development of pathological processes has led to an explosion of therapeutic strategies to inhibit its enzyme activity. So far only one compound, the sulphated oligosaccharide PI88, which both inhibits heparanase activity and has effects on growth factor binding has reached clinical trials where it has shown to have promising efficacy. The scene has clearly been set however for a new generation of compounds, either specific to the enzyme or with dual roles, to emerge from the lab and enter the clinic. The aim of this review is to describe the current drug discovery status of small molecule, sugar and neutralising antibody inhibitors of heparanase enzyme activity. Potential strategies will also be discussed on the selection of suitable biomarker strategies for specific monitoring of in vivo heparanase inhibition which will be crucial for both animal model and clinical trial testing.
British Journal of Pharmacology (2007) 151, 1–14. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707182