Towards clinical translation of ligand-functionalized liposomes in targeted cancer therapy: Challenges and opportunities

Lisa Belfiore, Darren N. Saunders, Marie Ranson, Kristofer J. Thurecht, Gert Storm, Kara L. Vine* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

216 Citations (Scopus)


The development of therapeutic resistance to targeted anticancer therapies remains a significant clinical problem, with intratumoral heterogeneity playing a key role. In this context, improving the therapeutic outcome through simultaneous targeting of multiple tumor cell subtypes within a heterogeneous tumor is a promising approach. Liposomes have emerged as useful drug carriers that can reduce systemic toxicity and increase drug delivery to the tumor site. While clinically used liposomal drug formulations show marked therapeutic advantages over free drug formulations, ligand-functionalized liposomes that can target multiple tumor cell subtypes may further improve the therapeutic efficacy by facilitating drug delivery to a broader population of tumor cells making up the heterogeneous tumor tissue. Ligand-directed liposomes enable the so-called active targeting of cell receptors via surface-attached ligands that direct drug uptake into tumor cells or tumor-associated stromal cells, and so can increase the selectivity of drug delivery. Despite promising preclinical results demonstrating improved targeting and anti-tumor effects of ligand-directed liposomes, there has been limited translation of this approach to the clinic. Key challenges for translation include the lack of established methods to scale up production and comprehensively characterize ligand-functionalized liposome formulations, as well as the inadequate recapitulation of in vivo tumors in the preclinical models currently used to evaluate their performance. Herein, we discuss the utility of recent ligand-directed liposome approaches, with a focus on dual-ligand liposomes, for the treatment of solid tumors and examine the drawbacks limiting their progression to clinical adoption.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of controlled release
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Dual-functionalized liposomes
  • EPR effect
  • Ligand-functionalized liposomes
  • Nanomedicine
  • Targeted therapy
  • Tumor heterogeneity


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