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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

The resurgence of cancer immunotherapy stems from an improved understanding of the tumor microenvironment. The PD-1/PD-L1 axis is of particular interest, in light of promising data demonstrating a restoration of host immunity against tumors, with the prospect of durable remissions. Indeed, remarkable clinical responses have been seen in several different malignancies including, but not limited to, melanoma, lung, kidney, and bladder cancers. Even so, determining which patients derive benefit from PD-1/PD-L1–directed immunotherapy remains an important clinical question, particularly in light of the autoimmune toxicity of these agents. The use of PD-L1 (B7-H1) immunohistochemistry (IHC) as a predictive biomarker is confounded by multiple unresolved issues: variable detection antibodies, differing IHC cutoffs, tissue preparation, processing variability, primary versus metastatic biopsies, oncogenic versus induced PD-L1 expression, and staining of tumor versus immune cells. Emerging data suggest that patients whose tumors overexpress PD-L1 by IHC have improved clinical outcomes with anti-PD-1–directed therapy, but the presence of robust responses in some patients with low levels of expression of these markers complicates the issue of PD-L1 as an exclusionary predictive biomarker. An improved understanding of the host immune system and tumor microenvironment will better elucidate which patients derive benefit from these promising agents. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 847–56. ©2015 AACR.


We present data that letrozole, an extensively used aromatase inhibitor in the treatment of estrogen receptor–positive breast tumors in postmenopausal women, may be potentially used in the treatment of glioblastomas. First, we measured the in vitro cytotoxicity of letrozole and aromatase (CYP19A1) expression and activity in human LN229, T98G, U373MG, U251MG, and U87MG, and rat C6 glioma cell lines. Estrogen receptor (ER)-positive MCF-7 and ER-negative MDA-MB-231 cells served as controls. Cytotoxicity was determined employing the MTT assay, and aromatase activity using an immunoassay that measures the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Second, in vivo activity of letrozole was assessed in Sprague–Dawley rats orthotopically implanted with C6 gliomas. The changes in tumor volume with letrozole treatment (4 mg/kg/day) were assessed employing μPET/CT imaging, employing [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose (F18-FDG) as the radiotracer. Brain tissues were collected for histologic evaluations. All glioma cell lines included here expressed CYP19A1 and letrozole exerted considerable cytotoxicity and decrease in aromatase activity against these cells (IC50, 0.1–3.5 μmol/L). Imaging analysis employing F18-FDG μPET/CT demonstrated a marked reduction of active tumor volume (>75%) after 8 days of letrozole treatment. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed marked reduction in aromatase expression in tumoral regions of the brain after letrozole treatment. Thus, employing multifaceted tools, we demonstrate that aromatase may be a novel target for the treatment of gliomas and that letrozole, an FDA-approved drug with an outstanding record of safety may be repurposed for the treatment of such primary brain tumors, which currently have few therapeutic options. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 857–64. ©2015 AACR.


WEE1 kinase regulates CDK1 and CDK2 activity to facilitate DNA replication during S-phase and to prevent unscheduled entry into mitosis. WEE1 inhibitors synergize with DNA-damaging agents that arrest cells in S-phase by triggering direct mitotic entry without completing DNA synthesis, resulting in catastrophic chromosome fragmentation and apoptosis. Here, we investigated how WEE1 inhibition could be best exploited for cancer therapy by performing a functional genetic screen to identify novel determinants of sensitivity to WEE1 inhibition. Inhibition of kinases that regulate CDK activity, CHK1 and MYT1, synergized with WEE1 inhibition through both increased replication stress and forced mitotic entry of S-phase cells. Loss of multiple components of the Fanconi anemia (FA) and homologous recombination (HR) pathways, in particular DNA helicases, sensitized to WEE1 inhibition. Silencing of FA/HR genes resulted in excessive replication stress and nucleotide depletion following WEE1 inhibition, which ultimately led to increased unscheduled mitotic entry. Our results suggest that cancers with defects in FA and HR pathways may be targeted by WEE1 inhibition, providing a basis for a novel synthetic lethal strategy for cancers harboring FA/HR defects. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 865–76. ©2015 AACR.


We previously reported that a pan-PAD inhibitor, YW3-56, activates p53 target genes to inhibit cancer growth. However, the p53-independent anticancer activity and molecular mechanisms of YW3-56 remain largely elusive. Here, gene expression analyses found that ATF4 target genes involved in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response were activated by YW3-56. Depletion of ATF4 greatly attenuated YW3-56–mediated activation of the mTORC1 regulatory genes SESN2 and DDIT4. Using the ChIP-exo method, high-resolution genomic binding sites of ATF4 and CEBPB responsive to YW3-56 treatment were generated. In human breast cancer cells, YW3-56–mediated cell death features mitochondria depletion and autophagy perturbation. Moreover, YW3-56 treatment effectively inhibits the growth of triple-negative breast cancer xenograft tumors in nude mice. Taken together, we unveiled the anticancer mechanisms and therapeutic potentials of the pan-PAD inhibitor YW3-56. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 877–88. ©2015 AACR.


The existing treatments to cure acute leukemias seem to be nonspecific and suboptimal for most patients, drawing attention to the need of new therapeutic strategies. In the last decade the anticancer potential of poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors became apparent and now several PARP inhibitors are being developed to treat various malignancies. So far, the usage of PARP inhibitors has been mainly focused on the treatment of solid tumors and not too much about their efficacy on leukemias is known. In this study we test, for the first time on leukemic cells, a combined therapy that associates the conventional chemotherapeutic agent fluorouracil (5FU), used as a source of DNA damage, and a PARP inhibitor, rucaparib. We demonstrate the efficacy and the specificity of this combined therapy in killing both acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoid leukemia cells in vitro and in vivo. We clearly show that the inhibition of DNA repair induced by rucaparib is synthetic lethal with the DNA damage caused by 5FU in leukemic cells. Therefore, we propose a new therapeutic strategy able to enhance the cytotoxic effect of DNA-damaging agents in leukemia cells via inhibiting the repair of damaged DNA. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 889–98. ©2015 AACR.


Abnormal choline metabolism is a hallmark of cancer and is associated with oncogenesis and tumor progression. Increased choline is consistently observed in both preclinical tumor models and in human brain tumors by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). Thus, inhibition of choline metabolism using specific choline kinase inhibitors such as MN58b may be a promising new strategy for treatment of brain tumors. We demonstrate the efficacy of MN58b in suppressing phosphocholine production in three brain tumor cell lines. In vivo MRS studies of rats with intracranial F98-derived brain tumors showed a significant decrease in tumor total choline concentration after treatment with MN58b. High-resolution MRS of tissue extracts confirmed that this decrease was due to a significant reduction in phosphocholine. Concomitantly, a significant increase in poly-unsaturated lipid resonances was also observed in treated tumors, indicating apoptotic cell death. MRI-based volume measurements demonstrated a significant growth arrest in the MN58b-treated tumors in comparison with saline-treated controls. Histologically, MN58b-treated tumors showed decreased cell density, as well as increased apoptotic cells. These results suggest that inhibition of choline kinase can be used as an adjuvant to chemotherapy in the treatment of brain tumors and that decreases in total choline observed by MRS can be used as an effective pharmacodynamic biomarker of treatment response. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 899–908. ©2015 AACR.


The prolongation of progression-free survival (PFS) in patients with advanced ovarian cancer by antiangiogenic therapy has been shown in several clinical trials. However, although an anti-VEGF antibody (bevacizumab) is the only option currently available, its efficacy is limited and it is not cost effective for use in all patients. Therefore, the development of a novel antiangiogenic drug, especially composed of small-molecule compounds, could be a powerful armament for ovarian cancer treatment. As NF-B signaling has the potential to regulate VEGF expression, we determined to identify whether VEGF expression is associated with NF-B activation and to investigate the possibility of a novel IKKβ inhibitor, IMD-0354 (IMMD Inc.), as an antiangiogenic drug. Tissue microarrays from 94 ovarian cancer tissues were constructed and immunohistochemical analyses performed. We revealed that IKK phosphorylation is an independent prognostic factor (PFS: 26.1 vs. 49.8 months, P = 0.011), and is positively correlated with high VEGF expression. In in vitro analyses, IMD-0354 robustly inhibited adhesive and invasive activities of ovarian cancer cells without impairing cell viabilities. IMD-0354 significantly suppressed VEGF production from cancer cells, which led to the inhibition of angiogenesis. In a xenograft model, the treatment of IMD-0354 significantly inhibited peritoneal dissemination with a marked reduction of intratumoral blood vessel formation followed by the inhibition of VEGF expression from cancer cells. IMD-0354 is a stable small-molecule drug and has already been administered safely to humans in other trials. Antiangiogenic therapy targeting IKKβ is a potential future option to treat ovarian cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 909–19. ©2015 AACR.


Patients with breast cancer brain metastases have extremely limited survival and no approved systemic therapeutics. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) commonly metastasizes to the brain and predicts poor prognosis. TNBC frequently harbors BRCA mutations translating to platinum sensitivity potentially augmented by additional suppression of DNA repair mechanisms through PARP inhibition. We evaluated brain penetrance and efficacy of carboplatin ± the PARP inhibitor ABT888, and investigated gene-expression changes in murine intracranial TNBC models stratified by BRCA and molecular subtype status. Athymic mice were inoculated intracerebrally with BRCA-mutant: SUM149 (basal), MDA-MB-436 (claudin-low); or BRCA–wild-type (wt): MDA-MB-468 (basal), MDA-MB-231BR (claudin-low). TNBC cells were treated with PBS control [intraperitoneal (IP), weekly], carboplatin (50 mg/kg/wk, IP), ABT888 (25 mg/kg/d, oral gavage), or their combination. DNA damage (-H2AX), apoptosis (cleaved caspase-3, cC3), and gene expression were measured in intracranial tumors. Carboplatin ± ABT888 significantly improved survival in BRCA-mutant intracranial models compared with control, but did not improve survival in BRCA-wt intracranial models. Carboplatin + ABT888 revealed a modest survival advantage versus carboplatin in BRCA-mutant models. ABT888 yielded a marginal survival benefit in the MDA-MB-436, but not in the SUM149 model. BRCA-mutant SUM149 expression of -H2AX and cC3 proteins was elevated in all treatment groups compared with control, whereas BRCA-wt MDA-MB-468 cC3 expression did not increase with treatment. Carboplatin treatment induced common gene-expression changes in BRCA-mutant models. Carboplatin ± ABT888 penetrates the brain and improves survival in BRCA-mutant intracranial TNBC models with corresponding DNA damage and gene-expression changes. Combination therapy represents a potential promising treatment strategy for patients with TNBC brain metastases warranting further clinical investigation. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 920–30. ©2015 AACR.


Dysregulation of PI3K/PTEN pathway components, resulting in hyperactivated PI3K signaling, is frequently observed in various cancers and correlates with tumor growth and survival. Resistance to a variety of anticancer therapies, including receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) inhibitors and chemotherapeutic agents, has been attributed to the absence or attenuation of downregulating signals along the PI3K/PTEN pathway. Thus, PI3K inhibitors have therapeutic potential as single agents and in combination with other therapies for a variety of cancer indications. XL147 (SAR245408) is a potent and highly selective inhibitor of class I PI3Ks (α, β, , and ). Moreover, broad kinase selectivity profiling of >130 protein kinases revealed that XL147 is highly selective for class I PI3Ks over other kinases. In cellular assays, XL147 inhibits the formation of PIP3 in the membrane, and inhibits phosphorylation of AKT, p70S6K, and S6 in multiple tumor cell lines with diverse genetic alterations affecting the PI3K pathway. In a panel of tumor cell lines, XL147 inhibits proliferation with a wide range of potencies, with evidence of an impact of genotype on sensitivity. In mouse xenograft models, oral administration of XL147 results in dose-dependent inhibition of phosphorylation of AKT, p70S6K, and S6 with a duration of action of at least 24 hours. Repeat-dose administration of XL147 results in significant tumor growth inhibition in multiple human xenograft models in nude mice. Administration of XL147 in combination with chemotherapeutic agents results in antitumor activity in xenograft models that is enhanced over that observed with the corresponding single agents. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 931–40. ©2015 AACR.


Anterior gradient 2 (AGR2) promotes cancer growth, metastasis, and resistance to therapy via unknown mechanisms. We investigated the effects of extracellular AGR2 signaling through the orphan glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked receptor C4.4A in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Proliferation, migration, invasion, and apoptosis were measured using colorimetric, Boyden chamber, and FACS analyses. We developed blocking mAbs against AGR2 and C4.4A and tested their effects, along with siRNAs, on cancer cell functions and on orthotopic tumors in nude mice. Extracellular AGR2 stimulated proliferation, migration, invasion, and chemoresistance of PDAC cell lines. AGR2 interacted with C4.4A in cell lysates and mixtures of recombinant proteins. Knockdown of C4.4A reduced migration and resistance to gemcitabine. PDAC tissues, but not adjacent healthy pancreatic tissues, expressed high levels of AGR2 and C4.4A. AGR2 signaling through C4.4A required laminins 1 or 5 and integrin β1. Administration of antibodies against AGR2 and C4.4A reduced growth and metastasis and caused regression of aggressive xenograft tumors, leading to increased survival of mice. These data support a model in which AGR2 binds and signals via C4.4A in an autocrine loop and promotes the growth of pancreas tumors in mice. Blocking mAbs against AGR2 and C4.4A may have therapeutic potential against PDAC. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 941–51. ©2015 AACR.


Antibody–drug conjugates (ADC) are emerging as clinically effective therapy. We hypothesized that cancers treated with ADCs would acquire resistance mechanisms unique to immunoconjugate therapy and that changing ADC components may overcome resistance. Breast cancer cell lines were exposed to multiple cycles of anti-Her2 trastuzumab–maytansinoid ADC (TM-ADC) at IC80 concentrations followed by recovery. The resistant cells, 361-TM and JIMT1-TM, were characterized by cytotoxicity, proteomic, transcriptional, and other profiling. Approximately 250-fold resistance to TM-ADC developed in 361-TM cells, and cross-resistance was observed to other non–cleavable-linked ADCs. Strikingly, these 361-TM cells retained sensitivity to ADCs containing cleavable mcValCitPABC-linked auristatins. In JIMT1-TM cells, 16-fold resistance to TM-ADC developed, with cross-resistance to other trastuzumab-ADCs. Both 361-TM and JIMT1-TM cells showed minimal resistance to unconjugated mertansine (DM1) and other chemotherapeutics. Proteomics and immunoblots detected increased ABCC1 (MRP1) drug efflux protein in 361-TM cells, and decreased Her2 (ErbB2) in JIMT1-TM cells. Proteomics also showed alterations in various pathways upon chronic exposure to the drug in both cell models. Tumors derived from 361-TM cells grew in mice and were refractory to TM-ADC compared with parental cells. Hence, acquired resistance to trastuzumab–maytansinoid ADC was generated in cultured cancer cells by chronic drug treatment, and either increased ABCC1 protein or reduced Her2 antigen were primary mediators of resistance. These ADC-resistant cell models retain sensitivity to other ADCs or standard-of-care chemotherapeutics, suggesting that alternate therapies may overcome acquired ADC resistance. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 952–63. ©2015 AACR.


The humanized IgG4 monoclonal antibody VX15/2503 bound with 1 to 5 nmol/L affinity to purified recombinant semaphorin 4D (SEMA4D; CD100) produced using murine, rat, cynomolgus macaque, and human sequences. The affinity for native SEMA4D expressed on macaque T lymphocytes was approximately 0.6 nmol/L. Tissues from rats and cynomolgus macaques demonstrated specific staining only with resident lymphocytes. Single-dose and one-month toxicology/PK studies used VX15/2503 dose levels of 0 to 100 mg/kg. No toxicity was observed with either species in these studies, thus the no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) was 100 mg/kg. Cmax, exposure, and half-life values were similar for both rats and macaques. The NOAEL in a primate maximum feasible dose study was 200 mg/kg. Saturation of T-cell–associated SEMA4D occurred following administration of single doses of 0.1 mg/kg and above; five weekly injections of VX15/2503 at a dose level of 100 mg/kg produced saturation lasting for more than 120 and 130 days, respectively, for rats and primates. Macaques administered five weekly doses of VX15/2503 showed dose-dependent reductions of 2- to 3-fold in T-cell SEMA4D (cSEMA4D) expression levels compared with controls. Reduced cSEMA4D expression levels continued until serum antibody concentrations were 2 to 5 μg/mL, and thereafter normal cSEMA4D levels were restored. On the basis of these data, a phase I clinical study of the safety and tolerability of VX15/2503 was conducted, enrolling adult patients with advanced solid tumor diseases; a single-dose, dose escalation, phase I safety study was also initiated with subjects with multiple sclerosis. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 964–72. ©2015 AACR.


The majority of ovarian cancer patients acquire resistance to standard platinum chemotherapy and novel therapies to reduce tumor burden and ascites accumulation are needed. Pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) plays a key role in promoting insulin-like growth factor (IGF) pathway activity, which directly correlates to ovarian cancer cell transformation, growth, and invasiveness. Herein, we evaluate PAPP-A expression in tumors and ascites of women with ovarian cancer, and determine the antitumor efficacy of a neutralizing monoclonal PAPP-A antibody (mAb-PA) in ovarian cancer using primary patient ovarian tumorgrafts ("Ovatars"). PAPP-A mRNA expression in patient ovarian tumors correlated with poor outcome and was validated as a prognostic surrogate in Ovatar tumors. Following confirmation of mAb-PA bioavailability and target efficacy in vivo, the antitumor efficacy of mAb-PA in multiple Ovatar tumor models was examined and the response was found to depend on PAPP-A expression. Strikingly, the addition of mAb-PA to standard platinum chemotherapy effectively sensitized platinum-resistant Ovatar tumors. PAPP-A protein in ascites was also assessed in a large cohort of patients and very high levels were evident across the entire sample set. Therefore, we evaluated targeted PAPP-A inhibition as a novel approach to managing ovarian ascites, and found that mAb-PA inhibited the development, attenuated the progression, and induced the regression of Ovatar ascites. Together, these data indicate PAPP-A as a potential palliative and adjunct therapeutic target for women with ovarian cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 973–81. ©2015 AACR.


The IGFI receptor promotes malignant progression and has been recognized as a target for cancer therapy. Clinical trials with anti-IGFIR antibodies provided evidence of therapeutic efficacy but exposed limitations due in part to effects on, and the compensatory function of, the insulin receptor system. Here, we report on the production, characterization, and biologic activity of a novel, IGF-targeting protein (the IGF-Trap) comprising a soluble form of hIGFIR and the Fc portion of hIgG1. The IGF-Trap has a high affinity for hIGFI and hIGFII but low affinity for insulin, as revealed by surface plasmon resonance. It efficiently blocked IGFIR signaling in several carcinoma cell types and inhibited tumor cell proliferation, migration, and invasion in vitro. In vivo, the IGF-Trap showed favorable pharmacokinetic properties and could suppress the growth of established breast carcinoma tumors when administered therapeutically into tumor-bearing mice, improving disease-free survival. Moreover, IGF-Trap treatment markedly reduced experimental liver metastasis of colon and lung carcinoma cells, increasing tumor cell apoptosis and reducing angiogenesis. Finally, when compared with an anti-IGFIR antibody or IGF-binding protein-1 that were used at similar or higher concentrations, the IGF-Trap showed superior therapeutic efficacy to both inhibitors. Taken together, we have developed a targeted therapeutic molecule with highly potent anticancer effects that could address limitations of current IGFIR-targeting agents. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 982–93. ©2015 AACR.


The antimicrotubular agent docetaxel is a widely used chemotherapeutic drug for the treatment of multiple solid tumors and is predominantly dependent on hepatic disposition. In this study, we evaluated drug uptake transporters capable of transporting radiolabeled docetaxel. By screening an array of drug uptake transporters in HeLa cells using a recombinant vaccinia-based method, five organic anion–transporting polypeptides (OATP) capable of docetaxel uptake were identified: OATP1A2, OATP1B1, OATP1B3, OATP1C1, and Oatp1b2. Kinetic analysis of docetaxel transport revealed similar kinetic parameters among hepatic OATP1B/1b transporters. An assessment of polymorphisms (SNPs) in SLCO1B1 and SLCO1B3 revealed that a number of OATP1B1 and OATP1B3 variants were associated with impaired docetaxel transport. A Transwell-based vectorial transport assay using MDCKII stable cells showed that docetaxel was transported significantly into the apical compartment of double-transfected (MDCKII-OATP1B1/MDR1 and MDCKII-OATP1B3/MDR1) cells compared with single-transfected (MDCKII-OATP1B1 and MDCKII-OATP1B3) cells (P < 0.05) or control (MDCKII-Co) cells (P < 0.001). In vivo docetaxel transport studies in Slco1b2–/– mice showed approximately >5.5-fold higher plasma concentrations (P < 0.01) and approximately 3-fold decreased liver-to-plasma ratio (P < 0.05) of docetaxel compared with wild-type (WT) mice. The plasma clearance of docetaxel in Slco1b2–/– mice was 83% lower than WT mice (P < 0.05). In conclusion, this study demonstrates the important roles of OATP1B transporters to the hepatic disposition and clearance of docetaxel, and supporting roles of these transporters for docetaxel pharmacokinetics. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 994–1003. ©2015 AACR.


Trifluridine (FTD) is a key component of the novel oral antitumor drug TAS-102, which consists of FTD and a thymidine phosphorylase inhibitor. Like 5-fluoro-2'-deoxyuridine (FdUrd), a deoxynucleoside form of 5-fluorouracil metabolite, FTD is sequentially phosphorylated and not only inhibits thymidylate synthase activity, but is also incorporated into DNA. Although TAS-102 was effective for the treatment of refractory metastatic colorectal cancer in clinical trials, the mechanism of FTD-induced cytotoxicity is not completely understood. Here, we show that FTD as well as FdUrd induce transient phosphorylation of Chk1 at Ser345, and that this is followed by accumulation of p53 and p21 proteins in p53-proficient human cancer cell lines. In particular, FTD induced p53-dependent sustained arrest at G2 phase, which was associated with a proteasome-dependent decrease in the Cyclin B1 protein level and the suppression of CCNB1 and CDK1 gene expression. In addition, a p53-dependent increase in p21 protein was associated with an FTD-induced decrease in Cyclin B1 protein. Although numerous ssDNA and dsDNA breaks were induced by FdUrd, few DNA strand breaks were detected in FTD-treated HCT-116 cells despite massive FTD misincorporation into genomic DNA, suggesting that the antiproliferative effect of FTD is not due to the induction of DNA strand breaks. These distinctive effects of FTD provide insights into the cellular mechanism underlying its antitumor effect and may explain the clinical efficacy of TAS-102. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1004–13. ©2015 AACR.


The PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway, which is aberrantly stimulated in many cancer cells, has emerged as a target for therapy. However, mTORC1/S6K also mediates negative feedback loops that attenuate upstream signaling. Suppression of these feedback loops opposes the growth-suppressive effects of mTOR inhibitors and leads to drug resistance. Here, we demonstrate that treatment of PANC-1 or MiaPaCa-2 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells with the dual PI3K/mTOR kinase inhibitor (PI3K/TOR-KI) BEZ235 blocked mTORC1/S6K activation (scored by S6 phosphorylation at Ser240/244), mTORC1/4E-BP1 (assayed by 4E-BP1 phosphorylation at Thr37/46), and mTORC2-mediated AKT phosphorylation at Ser473, in a concentration-dependent manner. Strikingly, BEZ235 markedly enhanced the MEK/ERK pathway in a dose-dependent manner. Maximal ERK overactivation coincided with complete inhibition of phosphorylation of AKT and 4E-BP1. ERK overactivation was induced by other PI3K/TOR-KIs, including PKI-587 and GDC-0980. The MEK inhibitors U126 or PD0325901 prevented ERK overactivation induced by PI3K/TOR-KIs. The combination of BEZ235 and PD0325901 caused a more pronounced inhibition of cell growth than that produced by each inhibitor individually. Mechanistic studies assessing PI3K activity in single PDAC cells indicate that PI3K/TOR-KIs act through a PI3K-independent pathway. Doses of PI3K/TOR-KIs that enhanced MEK/ERK activation coincided with those that inhibited mTORC2-mediated AKT phosphorylation on Ser473, suggesting a role of mTORC2. Knockdown of RICTOR via transfection of siRNA markedly attenuated the enhancing effect of BEZ235 on ERK phosphorylation. We propose that dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors suppress a novel negative feedback loop mediated by mTORC2, thereby leading to enhanced MEK/ERK pathway activity in pancreatic cancer cells. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1014–23. ©2015 AACR.


Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common malignancy in the kidney. Antiangiogenic targeted therapies inhibit the progression of RCC, but have limited impacts on invasion or metastasis of tumor cells. Integrin-linked kinase (ILK) is a serine/threonine kinase implicated in the regulation of cell growth/survival, cell-cycle progression, epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT), invasion/migration, and angiogenesis. However, the role of ILK in RCC has not been evaluated. We investigated the role of ILK on cancer progression and metastasis and the therapeutic potential of ILK inhibition in RCC. Our investigation reveals that ILK is expressed at a low level in normal cells and low-stage RCC cells and is highly expressed in advanced and metastatic cells. Caki-1, a metastatic RCC cell line, showed higher expression of molecular EMT markers, including Snail and Zeb1, but decreased activity of GSK3β. Knockdown of ILK using small interference (si)-ILK minimally inhibited tumor proliferation and cell-cycle progression was not significantly affected. However, ILK knockdown suppressed the formation of stress fibers and focal adhesions and impeded phenotypic EMT markers, including cell migration and invasion, in Caki-1 and UMRC-3 cells. Finally, in vivo knockdown of ILK suppressed the progression, invasion, and metastasis of primary RCC in nude mice by downregulation of EMT markers (Snail, Zeb1, vimentin, and E-cadherin). Our results show that ILK may be essential for invasion and metastasis in RCC and regulates vimentin and E-cadherin expression by regulating the EMT-related transcription factors Snail and Zeb1. These results suggest that ILK may be a potential target in RCC. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1024–34. ©2015 AACR.


Ovarian carcinoma is the fifth leading cause of death among women in the United States. Persistent activation of STAT3 is frequently detected in ovarian carcinoma. STAT3 is activated by Janus family kinases (JAK) via cytokine receptors, growth factor receptor, and non–growth factor receptor tyrosine kinases. Activation of STAT3 mediates tumor cell proliferation, survival, motility, invasion, and angiogenesis, and recent work demonstrates that STAT3 activation suppresses antitumor immune responses and supports tumor-promoting inflammation. We hypothesized that therapeutic targeting of the JAK/STAT3 pathway would inhibit tumor growth by direct effects on ovarian carcinoma cells and by inhibition of cells in the tumor microenvironment (TME). To test this, we evaluated the effects of a small-molecule JAK inhibitor, AZD1480, on cell viability, apoptosis, proliferation, migration, and adhesion of ovarian carcinoma cells in vitro. We then evaluated the effects of AZD1480 on in vivo tumor growth and progression, gene expression, tumor-associated matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) activity, and immune cell populations in a transgenic mouse model of ovarian carcinoma. AZD1480 treatment inhibited STAT3 phosphorylation and DNA binding, and migration and adhesion of cultured ovarian carcinoma cells and ovarian tumor growth rate, volume, and ascites production in mice. In addition, drug treatment led to altered gene expression, decreased tumor-associated MMP activity, and fewer suppressor T cells in the peritoneal TME of tumor-bearing mice than control mice. Taken together, our results show pharmacologic inhibition of the JAK2/STAT3 pathway leads to disruption of functions essential for ovarian tumor growth and progression and represents a promising therapeutic strategy. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1035–47. ©2015 AACR.


A novel combination of bevacizumab and everolimus was evaluated in refractory colorectal cancer patients in a phase II trial. In this retrospective analysis, plasma samples from 49 patients were tested for over 40 biomarkers at baseline and after one or two cycles of drug administration. Analyte levels at baseline and change on-treatment were correlated with progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) using univariate Cox proportional hazard modeling. Multivariable analyses were conducted using Cox modeling. Significant changes in multiple markers were observed following bevacizumab and everolimus treatment. Baseline levels of six markers significantly correlated with PFS and OS, including CRP, Gro-α, IGFBP-1, TF, ICAM-1, and TSP-2 (P < 0.05). At C2D1, changes of IGFBP-3, TGFβ-R3, and IGFBP-2 correlated with PFS and OS. Prognostic models were developed for OS and PFS (P = 0.0002 and 0.004, respectively). The baseline model for OS consisted of CRP, Gro-α, and TF, while the on-treatment model at C2D1 included IGFBP-2, IGFBP-3, and TGFβ-R3. These data demonstrated that multiple biomarkers were significantly modulated in response to bevacizumab and everolimus. Several markers correlated with both PFS and OS. Interestingly, these markers are known to be associated with inflammation and IGF signaling, key modulators of mTOR biology. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1048–56. ©2015 AACR.


Bloom syndrome helicase (BLM) has key roles in homologous recombination repair, telomere maintenance, and DNA replication. Germ-line mutations in the BLM gene causes Bloom syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by premature aging and predisposition to multiple cancers, including breast cancer. The clinicopathologic significance of BLM in sporadic breast cancers is unknown. We investigated BLM mRNA expression in the Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium cohort (n = 1,950) and validated in an external dataset of 2,413 tumors. BLM protein level was evaluated in the Nottingham Tenovus series comprising 1,650 breast tumors. BLM mRNA overexpression was significantly associated with high histologic grade, larger tumor size, estrogen receptor–negative (ER), progesterone receptor–negative (PR), and triple-negative phenotypes (ps < 0.0001). BLM mRNA overexpression was also linked to aggressive molecular phenotypes, including PAM50.Her2 (P < 0.0001), PAM50.Basal (P < 0.0001), and PAM50.LumB (P < 0.0001) and Genufu subtype (ER+/Her2/high proliferation; P < 0.0001). PAM50.LumA tumors and Genufu subtype (ER+/Her2/low proliferation) were more likely to express low levels of BLM mRNA (ps < 0.0001). Integrative molecular clusters (intClust) intClust.1 (P < 0.0001), intClust.5 (P < 0.0001), intClust.9 (P < 0.0001), and intClust.10 (P < 0.0001) were also more likely in tumors with high BLM mRNA expression. BLM mRNA overexpression was associated with poor breast cancer–specific survival (BCSS; ps < 0.000001). At the protein level, altered subcellular localization with high cytoplasmic BLM and low nuclear BLM was linked to aggressive phenotypes. In multivariate analysis, BLM mRNA and BLM protein levels independently influenced BCSS. This is the first and the largest study to provide evidence that BLM is a promising biomarker in breast cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1057–65. ©2015 AACR.


Although somatic alterations in CAG repeats in the androgen receptor (AR) gene have been suggested to predispose to colorectal cancer, less is known about AR in colorectal cancer carcinogenesis. Because of lack of relevant analysis on CAG repeat length and AR expression in colorectal cancer, we aimed to investigate the prognostic value of polymorphic CAG and protein expression of the AR gene in patients with colorectal cancer. A case–control study was carried out on 550 patients with colorectal cancer and 540 healthy controls to investigate whether polymorphic CAG within the AR gene is linked to increased risk for colorectal cancer. Polymorphic CAG and AR expression were analyzed to clarify their relationship with clinicopathologic and prognostic factors in patients with colorectal cancer. The study showed that the AR gene in patients with colorectal cancer had a longer CAG repeat sequence than those in the control group, as well as increased risk for colorectal cancer among females (P = 0.013), males (P = 0.002), and total colorectal cancer population (P < 0.001), respectively. AR expression exhibited a significant difference in long CAG repeat sequence among males (P < 0.001), females (P < 0.001), and total colorectal cancer study population (P < 0.001). Both long CAG repeat sequence and negative AR expression were associated with a short 5-year overall survival (OS) rate in colorectal cancer. Long CAG repeat sequences and the absence of AR expression were closely related to the development of colorectal cancer. Both long CAG and decreased AR expression were correlated with the poor 5-year OS in patients with colorectal cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1066–74. ©2015 AACR.


Ovarian cancer is a dreadful disease estimated to be the second most common gynecologic malignancy worldwide. Its current therapy, based on cytoreductive surgery followed by the combination of platinum and taxanes, is frequently complicated by the onset of multidrug resistance (MDR). The discovery that survivin, a small antiapoptotic protein, is involved in chemoresistance provided a new prospect to overcome MDR in cancer, because siRNA could be used to inhibit the expression of survivin in cancer cells. With this in mind, we have developed self-assembly polymeric micelles (PM) able to efficiently co-load an anti–survivin siRNA and a chemotherapeutic agent, such as paclitaxel (PXL; survivin siRNA/PXL PM). Previously, we have successfully demonstrated that the downregulation of survivin by using siRNA-containing PM strongly sensitizes different cancer cells to paclitaxel. Here, we have evaluated the applicability of the developed multifunctional PM in vivo. Changes in survivin expression, therapeutic efficacy, and biologic effects of the nanopreparation were investigated in an animal model of paclitaxel-resistant ovarian cancer. The results obtained in mice xenografed with SKOV3-tr revealed a significant downregulation of survivin expression in tumor tissues together with a potent anticancer activity of survivin siRNA/PXL PM, while the tumors remained unaffected with the same quantity of free paclitaxel. These promising results introduce a novel type of nontoxic and easy-to-obtain nanodevice for the combined therapy of siRNA and anticancer agents in the treatment of chemoresistant tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(4); 1075–84. ©2015 AACR.