Prodrugs of antiviral phosphonates

  • Antony G. Mitchell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Phosphonoformate and phosphonoacetate are effective antiviral agents, however they are charged at physiological pH and as such penetration into cells and diffusion across the blood-brain bamer is limited. In an attempt to increase the lipophilicity and improve the transport properties of these molecules, prodrugs were synthesised and their stabilities and reconversion to the parent compound subsequently investigated by the techniques of 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and high performance liquid Chromatography. A series of 4-substituted dibenzyl (methoxycarbonyl)phosphonates were prepared and found to be hydrolytically unstable giving predominantly the diesters, benzyl (methoxycarbonyl)phosphonates. This instability arose from the electron-withdrawing effect of the carbonyl group promoting nucleophilic attack at phosphorus. It was possible to influence the mechanism and, to some extent, the rate of hydrolysis of the phosphonoformate triesters to the diesters by varying the electronic nature of the substituent in the 4-position of the aromatic ring. Strongly electron-withdrawing groups increased the sensitivity of phosphorus to nucleophilic attack, thus promoting P-O .bond cleavage and rapid hydrolysis. Conversely, weakly electron-withdrawing substituents encouraged C-O bond fission, presumably through resonance stabilisation of the benzyl carbonium ion. The loss of the protecting group on phosphorus was in competition with nucleophilic attack at the carbonyl group, resulting in P-C bond cleavage with dibenzyl phosphite formation. The high instability and P-C bond fission make triesters unsuitable prodrug forms of phosphonoformate. A range of chemically stable triesters of phosphonoacetate were synthesised and their bioactivation investigated. Di(benzoyloxymethyl) (methoxycarbonylmethyl)phosphonates degraded to the relevant benzoyloxymethyl (methoxycarbonylmethyl)phosphonate in the presence of esterase. The enzymatic activation was restricted to the removal of only one protecting group from phosphorus, most likely due to the close proximity of the benzoyloxy ester function to the anionic charge on the diester. However, in similar systems di(4-alkanoyloxybenzyl) (methoxycarbonylmethyl)phosphonates degraded in the presence of esterase with the loss of both protecting groups on phosphorus to give the monoester, (methoxycarbonylmethyl)phosphonate, via the intermediary of the unstable 4-hydroxy benzyl esters. The methoxycarbonyl function remained intact. The rate of enzymatic hydrolysis and subsequent removal of the protecting groups on phosphorus was dependent on the nature of the alkanoyl group and was most rapid for the 4-nbutanoyloxybenzyl and 4-iso-butanoyloxybenzyl esters of phosphonoacetate. This provides a strategy for the design of a prodrug with sufficient stability in plasma to reach the central nervous system in high concentration, wherein rapid metabolism to the active drug by brain-associated enzymes occurs.

Date of Award1991
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSally Freeman (Supervisor)


  • Prodrugs
  • antiviral phosphonates
  • phosphonoformate
  • phosphonoacetate
  • synthesis
  • bioactivation

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