ONC201 was originally discovered as TNF-Related Apoptosis Inducing Ligand (TRAIL)-inducing compound TIC10. ONC201 appears to act as a selective antagonist of the G protein coupled receptor (GPCR) dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2), and as an allosteric agonist of mitochondrial protease caseinolytic protease P (ClpP). Downstream of target engagement, ONC201 activates the ATF4/CHOP-mediated integrated stress response leading to TRAIL/Death Receptor 5 (DR5) activation, inhibits oxidative phosphorylation via c-myc, and inactivates Akt/ERK signaling in tumor cells. This typically results in DR5/TRAIL-mediated apoptosis of tumor cells; however, DR5/TRAIL-independent apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, or antiproliferative effects also occur. The effects of ONC201 extend beyond bulk tumor cells to include cancer stem cells, cancer associated fibroblasts and immune cells within the tumor microenvironment that can contribute to its efficacy. ONC201 is orally administered, crosses the intact blood brain barrier, and is under evaluation in clinical trials in patients with advanced solid tumors and hematological malignancies. ONC201 has single agent clinical activity in tumor types that are enriched for DRD2 and/or ClpP expression including specific subtypes of high-grade glioma, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, and adrenal tumors. Synergy with radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immune-checkpoint agents has been identified in preclinical models and is being evaluated in clinical trials. Structure-activity relationships based on the core pharmacophore of ONC201, termed the imipridone scaffold, revealed novel potent compounds that are being developed. Imipridones represent a novel approach to therapeutically target previously undruggable GPCRs, ClpP, and innate immune pathways in oncology.
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