Ligand-independent activation of EphA2 receptor kinase promotes cancer metastasis and invasion. Activating EphA2 receptor tyrosine kinase with small molecule agonist is a novel strategy to treat EphA2 overexpressing cancer. In this study, we performed a lead optimization of a small molecule Doxazosin that was identified as an EphA2 receptor agonist. 33 new analogs were developed and evaluated; a structure−activity relationship was summarized based on the EphA2 activation of these derivatives. Two new derivative compounds 24 and 27 showed much improved activity compared to Doxazosin. Compound 24 possesses a bulky amide moiety, and compound 27 has a dimeric structure that is very different to the parental compound. Compound 27 with a twelve-carbon linker of the dimer activated the kinase and induced receptor internalization and cell death with the best potency. Another dimer with a six-carbon linker has significantly reduced potency compared to the dimer with a longer linker, suggesting that the length of the linker is critical for the activity of the dimeric agonist. To explore the receptor binding characteristics of the new molecules, we applied a docking study to examine how the small molecule binds to the EphA2 receptor. The results reveal that compounds 24 and 27 form more hydrogen bonds to EphA2 than Doxazosin, suggesting that they may have higher binding affinity to the receptor.

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