- The purpose of this study was to improve the membrane permeability and oral absorption of the poorly permeable anti-influenza agent, zanamivir. The poor oral bioavailability is attributed to the high polarity (cLogP ∼ −5) resulting from the polar and zwitterionic nature of zanamivir. In order to improve the permeability of zanamivir, prodrugs with amino acids were developed to target the intestinal membrane transporter, hPepT1. Several acyloxy ester prodrugs of zanamivir conjugated with amino acids were synthesized and characterized. The prodrugs were evaluated for their chemical stability in buffers at various pHs and for their transport and tissue activation by enzymes. The acyloxy ester prodrugs of zanamivir were shown to competitively inhibit [3H]Gly-Sar uptake in Caco-2 cells (IC50: 1.19 ± 0.33 mM for l-valyl prodrug of zanamivir). The l-valyl prodrug of zanamivir exhibited ∼3-fold higher uptake in transfected HeLa/hPepT1 cells compared to wild type HeLa cells, suggesting, at least in part, carrier mediated transport by the hPepT1 transporter. Further, enhanced transcellular permeability of prodrugs across Caco-2 monolayer compared to the parent drug (Papp = 2.24 × 10–6 ± 1.33 × 10–7 cm/s for l-valyl prodrug of zanamivir), with only parent zanamivir appearing in the receiver compartment, indicates that the prodrugs exhibited both enhanced transport and activation in intestinal mucosal cells. Most significantly, several of these prodrugs exhibited high intestinal jejunal membrane permeability, similar to metoprolol, in the in situ rat intestinal perfusion system, a system highly correlated with human jejunal permeability. In summary, this mechanistic targeted prodrug strategy, to enhance oral absorption via intestinal membrane carriers such as hPepT1, followed by activation to parent drug (active pharmaceutical ingredient or API) in the mucosal cell, significantly improves the intestinal epithelial cell permeability of zanamivir and has the potential to provide the high oral bioavailability necessary for oral zanamivir therapy.