Laurence Hurley
Associate Director, BIO5 Institute
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Medicinal Chemistry-Pharmaceutical Sciences
Professor, Medicinal Chemistry-Pharmacology and Toxicology
Professor, Cancer Biology - GIDP
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 626-5622
Work Summary
Laurence Hurley's long-time research interest is in molecular targeting of DNA, first by covalent binders (CC-1065 and psorospermin), then as compounds that target protein–DNA complexes (pluramycins and Et 743), and most recently as four-stranded DNA structures (G-quadruplexes and i-motifs). He was the first to show that targeting G-quadruplexes could inhibit telomerase (Sun et al. [1997] J. Med. Chem., 40, 2113) and that targeting G-quadruplexes in promoter complexes results in inhibition of transcription (Siddiqui-Jain et al. [2002] Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 99, 11593).
Research Interest
Laurence Hurley, PhD, embraces an overall objective to design and develop novel antitumor agents that will extend the productive lives of patients who have cancer. His research program in medicinal chemistry depends upon a structure-based approach to drug design that is intertwined with a clinical oncology program in cancer therapeutics directed by Professor Daniel Von Hoff at TGen at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. Dr. Hurley directs a research group that consists of a team of graduate and postdoctoral students with expertise in structural and synthetic chemistry working alongside students in biochemistry and molecular biology. NMR and in vivo evaluations of novel agents are carried out in collaboration with other research groups in the Arizona Cancer Center. At present, they have a number of different groups of compounds that target a variety of intracellular receptors. These receptors include: (1) transcriptional regulatory elements, (2) those involved in cell signaling pathways, and (3) protein-DNA complexes, including transcriptional factor-DNA complexes.In close collaboration with Dr. Gary Flynn in Medicinal Chemistry, he has an ongoing program to target a number of important kinases, including aurora kinases A and B, p38, and B-raf. These studies involve structure-based approaches as well as virtual screening. Molecular modeling and synthetic medicinal chemistry are important tools.The protein–DNA complexes involved in transcriptional activation of promoter complexes using secondary DNA structures are also targets for drug design.


Hahn, T., Bradley-Dunlop, D. J., Hurley, L. H., Von-Hoff, D., Gately, S., Mary, D. L., Lu, H., Penichet, M. L., Besselsen, D. G., Cole, B. B., Meeuwsen, T., Walker, E., & Akporiaye, E. T. (2011). The vitamin E analog, alpha-tocopheryloxyacetic acid enhances the anti-tumor activity of trastuzumab against HER2/neu-expressing breast cancer. BMC cancer, 11.
BIO5 Collaborators
David G Besselsen, Laurence Hurley

HER2/neu is an oncogene that facilitates neoplastic transformation due to its ability to transduce growth signals in a ligand-independent manner, is over-expressed in 20-30% of human breast cancers correlating with aggressive disease and has been successfully targeted with trastuzumab (Herceptin®). Because trastuzumab alone achieves only a 15-30% response rate, it is now commonly combined with conventional chemotherapeutic drugs. While the combination of trastuzumab plus chemotherapy has greatly improved response rates and increased survival, these conventional chemotherapy drugs are frequently associated with gastrointestinal and cardiac toxicity, bone marrow and immune suppression. These drawbacks necessitate the development of new, less toxic drugs that can be combined with trastuzumab. Recently, we reported that orally administered alpha-tocopheryloxyacetic acid (α-TEA), a novel ether derivative of alpha-tocopherol, dramatically suppressed primary tumor growth and reduced the incidence of lung metastases both in a transplanted and a spontaneous mouse model of breast cancer without discernable toxicity.

Galbraith, D. W., Bourque, D. P., & Bohnert, H. J. (1995). Preface. Methods in Cell Biology, 50(C), xxi-xxii.
BIO5 Collaborators
David W Galbraith, Laurence Hurley
Hurley, L., Dexheimer, T. S., Sun, D., & Hurley, L. -. (2006). Deconvoluting the structural and drug-recognition complexity of the G-quadruplex-forming region upstream of the bcl-2 P1 promoter. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 128(16).

The human bcl-2 gene contains a GC-rich region upstream of the P1 promoter that has been shown to be critically involved in the regulation of bcl-2 gene expression. We have demonstrated that the guanine-rich strand of the DNA in this region can form any one of three distinct intramolecular G-quadruplex structures. Mutation and deletion analysis permitted isolation and identification of three overlapping DNA sequences within this element that formed the three individual G-quadruplexes. Each of these was characterized using nondenaturing gel analysis, DMS footprinting, and circular dichroism. The central G-quadruplex, which is the most stable, forms a mixed parallel/antiparallel structure consisting of three tetrads connected by loops of one, seven, and three bases. Three different G-quadruplex-interactive agents were found to further stabilize these structures, with individual selectivity toward one or more of these G-quadruplexes. Collectively, these results suggest that the multiple G-quadruplexes identified in the promoter region of the bcl-2 gene are likely to play a similar role to the G-quadruplexes in the c-myc promoter in that their formation could serve to modulate gene transcription. Last, we demonstrate that the complexity of the G-quadruplexes in the bcl-2 promoter extends beyond the ability to form any one of three separate G-quadruplexes to each having the capacity to form either three or six different loop isomers. These results are discussed in relation to the biological significance of this G-quadruplex-forming element in modulation of bcl-2 gene expression and the inherent complexity of the system where different G-quadruplexes and loop isomers are possible.

Lokey, R. S., Kwok, Y., Guelev, V., Pursell, C. J., Hurley, L. H., & Iverson, B. L. (1997). A new class of polyintercalating molecules. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 119(31), 7202-7210.


We have synthesized a series of polyintercalating compounds, including the first known tetraintercalator, based on the 1,4,5,8-naphthalenetetracarboxylic diimide chromophore. The chromophores are attached in a head-to-tail arrangement by peptide linkers and are synthesized by standard solid phase peptide synthesis methods. We report evidence, based on UV-visible spectroscopy and viscometry, that the compounds are fully intercalated upon binding to double-stranded DNA. Using DNAse I footprinting experiments, the bisintercalator 2 was found to bind to DNA in a cooperative manner. The footprinting results as well as association and dissociation kinetics data reveal that the compounds exhibit a tremendous preference for GC over AT sequences. A mode of binding is proposed in which the compounds intercalate completely from the major groove, and not in a threading manner as may be suggested by their structures. A kinetic scheme is proposed that takes into account the observed cooperativity and fits the data for the dissociations of the polyintercalators from poly(dAdT), although a similar scheme could not adequately model their dissociations from poly(dGdC) or from calf thymus DNA.

Ding, Z. -., & Hurley, L. H. (1991). DNA interstrand cross-linking, DNA sequence specificity, and induced conformational changes produced by a dimeric analog of (+)-CC-1065. Anti-Cancer Drug Design, 6(5), 427-452.

PMID: 1662513;Abstract:

U-77779 is a symmetrical dimer of the spirocyclopropyl allkylating subunit of (+)-CC-1065 in which the linker consists of two indole subunits separated by a ureido group. This compound was synthesized by scientists of the Upjohn Company and was found to be more active in both anti-tumor efficacy and cytotoxicity than its mono-alkylating analogs. Using three different 21-base pair DNA duplexes containing U-77779 reactive sequences, we have shown that U-77779 produces a stable interstrand cross-linked species that loses its internal self complementarity. A comparison of U-77779 with the mono-alkylating analogs of (+)-CC-1065 shows that it appears to have an increased sequence selectivity such that, while monoalkylating compounds like (+)-CC-1065 react at more than one site, U-77779 reacts only at sites where there are two suitably positioned alkylation sites. Chemical footprinting with 1,10-phenanthroline-copper complex revealed a six base pair cross-linked region between the two covalently modified adenines with modulated cleavage outside this region. In the case of hydroxyl radical footprinting, considerable variability of the extent of cleavage within the cross-linked sequence was found. These results are discussed in terms of likely induced conformational changes in DNA. In contrast to (+)-CC-1065, non-denaturing gel electrophoresis did not reveal any net bending of DNA due to U-77779, which we believe is due to the 180 out-of-phase bending produced on opposite strands of DNA by the cross-linker.