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.


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
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.

Seaman, F. C., & Hurley, L. H. (1998). Molecular basis for the DNA sequence selectivity of ecteinascidin 736 and 743: Evidence for the dominant role of direct readout via hydrogen bonding. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 120(50), 13028-13041.


The marine natural product ecteinascidin 743 (Et 743) is currently in phase II clinical trials. We have undertaken parallel structural and modeling studies of an Et 743-(N2-guanine) 12-mer DNA adduct and an adduct involving the structurally related Et 736 of the same sequence in order to ascertain the structural basis for the ecteinascidin-DNA sequence selectivity. In contrast to the C-subunit differences found in Et 736 and Et 743, they have identical A-B-subunit scaffolds, which are the principal sites of interaction with DNA bases. These identical scaffolds generate parallel networks of drug- DNA hydrogen bonds that associate the drugs with the three base pairs at the recognition site. We propose that these parallel hydrogen bonding networks stabilize the Et 736 and Et 743 A- and B-subunit prealkylation binding complex with the three base pairs and are the major factors governing sequence recognition and reactivity. The possibility that a unique hydrogen- bonding network directs the course of sequence recognition was examined by first characterizing the hydrogen-bonding substituents using 1H NMR properties of the exchangeable protons attached to the hydrogen-bond donor and other protons near the proposed acceptor. Using these experimental findings as indicators of hydrogen bonding, Et 736-12-mer duplex adduct models (binding and covalent forms) containing the favored sequences 5'-AGC and 5'-CGG were examined by molecular dynamics (MD) in order to evaluate the stability of the hydrogen bonds in the resulting conformations. The MD- generated models of these favored sequences display optimal donor/acceptor positions for maximizing the number of drug-DNA hydrogen bonds prior to covalent reaction. The results of MD analysis of the carbinolamine (binding) forms of the sequences 5'-GGG (moderately reactive) and 5'-AGT (poorly reactive) suggested reasons for their diminished hydrogen-bonding capability. These experimental and modeling results provide the structural basis for the following sequence specificity rules: For the target sequence 5'-XGY, the favored base to the 3'-side, Y, is either G or C. When Y is G, then a pyrimidine base (T or C) is favored for X. When Y is C, a purine (A or G) is favored for X.

Swenson, D. H., Li, L. H., Hurley, L. H., Rokem, J. S., Petzold, G. L., Dayton, B. D., Wallace, T. L., Lin, A. H., & Krueger, W. C. (1982). Mechanism of interaction of CC-1065 (NSC 298223) with DNA. Cancer Research, 42(7), 2821-2828.

PMID: 7083173;Abstract:

CC-1065 (NSC 298223), a potent new antitumor antibiotic produced by Streptomyces zelensis, interacts strongly with double-stranded DNA and appears to exert its cytotoxic effects through disruption of DNA synthesis. We undertook this study to elucidate the sites and mechanisms of CC-1065 interaction with DNA. The binding of CC-1065 to synthetic and native DNA was examined by differential circular dichroism or by Sephadex chromatography with photometric detection. The binding of CC-1065 with calf thymus DNA was rapid, being complete within 2 hr, and saturated at 1 drug per 7 to 11 base pairs. The interaction of CC-1065 with synthetic DNA polymers indicated a specificity for adenine- and thymine-rich sites. Agarose gel electrophoresis of CC-1065-treated supercoiled DNA showed that CC-1065 did not intercalate. Site exclusion studies using substitutions in the DNA grooves showed CC-1065 to bind primarily in the minor groove. CC-1065 did not cause DNA breaks; it inhibited susceptibility of DNA to nuclease S1 digestion. It raised the thermal melting temperature of DNA, and it inhibited the thiolium-induced unwinding of DNA. Thus, in contrast to many antitumor agents, CC-1065 stabilized the DNA helix. DNA helix overstabilization may be relevant to the mechanism of action of CC-1065.

Hornemann, U., Hurley, L. H., Speedie, M. K., Guenther, H. F., & Floss, H. G. (1969). Biosynthesis of the antibiotic indolmycin by Streptomyces griseus. C-Methylation at the β-carbon atom of the tryptophan side-chain. Journal of the Chemical Society D: Chemical Communications, 245-246.