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
Seaman, F. C., & Hurley, L. H. (1999). 31P-Nmr as a probe for drug-nucleic acid interactions. Phosphorus, Sulfur and Silicon and Related Elements, 144-146, 297-300.


The structural impact of covalent and noncovalent interactions of drugs with DNA is an important component for understanding the biochemical and biological consequences of DNA damage. Work in this laboratory has focused on a number of potentially therapeutically important drugs that distort DNA by unwinding, bending DNA into the major or minor groove. These lead to enhanced recognition of DNA by proteins involved in transcription and replication. In this paper, we will present the structures of one of these complexes and show how 31P-NMR can be used to monitor these distortive effects.

Hurley, L., Brown, R. V., & Hurley, L. -. (2011). DNA acting like RNA. Biochemical Society transactions, 39(2).

Over the last decade or so, secondary non-B-DNA structures such as G-quadruplexes and i-motifs have come into focus as biologically functioning moieties that are potentially involved in telomeric interactions and the control of gene expression. In the present short review, we first describe the structural and dynamic parallels with complex RNA structures, including the importance of sequence and ions in folding, and then we describe the biological consequences of the folded structures. We conclude that there are considerable parallels between secondary and tertiary structures in RNA and DNA from both the folding and the biological perspectives.

Sun, D., & Hurley, L. H. (2010). Biochemical techniques for the characterization of G-quadruplex structures: EMSA, DMS footprinting, and DNA polymerase stop assay.. Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.), 608, 65-79.

PMID: 20012416;PMCID: PMC2797547;Abstract:

The proximal promoter region of many human growth-related genes contains a polypurine/polypyrimidine tract that serves as multiple binding sites for Sp1 or other transcription factors. These tracts often contain a guanine-rich sequence consisting of four runs of three or more contiguous guanines separated by one or more bases, corresponding to a general motif known for the formation of an intramolecular G-quadruplex. Recent results provide strong evidence that specific G-quadruplex structures form naturally within these polypurine/polypyrimidine tracts in many human promoter regions, raising the possibility that the transcriptional control of these genes can be modulated by G-quadruplex-interactive agents. In this chapter, we describe three general biochemical methodologies, electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA), dimethylsulfate (DMS) footprinting, and the DNA polymerase stop assay, which can be useful for initial characterization of G-quadruplex structures formed by G-rich sequences.