ARTICLE ABSTRACTThe ability of a panel of camptothecin derivatives to access the tumor compartment was evaluated to determine the mechanisms by which the architecture of solid tumors may act to limit their activity. Microregional localization and activity of members of the camptothecin class of topoisomerase I targeting agents, including topotecan, irinotecan, and irinophore C, a lipid-based nanoparticulate formulation of irinotecan, were evaluated over time in HCT116 and HT29 colorectal tumor xenografts. Using native drug fluorescence, their distributions in tissue cryosections were related to the underlying tumor vasculature, tumor cell proliferation, and apoptosis. Topotecan exhibited a relatively uniform tumor distribution; in tissue 100 μm away from vessels, it reached 94% ± 5% of levels seen around blood vessels, whereas irinotecan and irinophore C were found to reach only 41% ± 10% and 5% ± 2%, respectively. Surprisingly, all three agents were able to initially inhibit proliferation uniformly throughout the tumors, and it was their rate of washout (topotecan > irinotecan > irinophore C) that correlated with activity. To explain this discrepancy, we looked at SN38, the active metabolite of irinotecan, and found it to penetrate tissue similarly to topotecan. Hence, the poor access to the tumor compartment of irinotecan and irinophore C could be offset by their systemic conversion to SN38. It was concluded that all three agents were effective at reaching tumor cells, and that despite the poor access to the extravascular compartment of irinophore C, its extended plasma exposure and systemic conversion to the diffusible metabolite SN38 enabled it to effectively target solid tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(11); 2727–37. ©2014 AACR.