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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

Wnt signaling is dysregulated in many cancers and is therefore an attractive therapeutic target. The focus of drug development has recently shifted away from downstream inhibitors of β-catenin. Active inhibitors of Wnt secretion and Wnt/receptor interactions have been developed that are now entering clinical trials. Such agents include inhibitors of Wnt secretion, as well as recombinant proteins that minimize Wnt–Frizzled interactions. These new therapies arrive together with the recent insight that cancer-specific upregulation of Wnt receptors at the cell surface regulates cellular sensitivity to Wnts. Loss-of-function mutations in RNF43 or ZNRF3 and gain-of-function chromosome translocations involving RSPO2 and RSPO3 are surprisingly common and markedly increase Wnt/β-catenin signaling in response to secreted Wnts. These mutations may be predictive biomarkers to select patients responsive to newly developed upstream Wnt inhibitors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1087–94. ©2015 AACR.


The mTOR pathway is often upregulated in cancer and thus intensively pursued as a target to design novel anticancer therapies. Approved and emerging drugs targeting the mTOR pathway have positively affected the clinical landscape. Recently, activin receptor-like kinase 1 (ALK1), belonging to the TGFβ receptor family, has been reported as an emerging target for antiangiogenic cancer therapy. Here, we describe a novel orally efficacious compound, P7170, that inhibits mTORC1/mTORC2/ALK1 activity with a potent cell growth inhibition. In cell-based assays, P7170 strongly inhibited (IC50 < 10 nmol/L) the phosphorylation of p70S6K (T389) and pAKT (S473). In many cancer cell lines, such as prostate, ovarian, colon, and renal, P7170 treatment resulted in marked cell growth inhibition. Furthermore, it induced G1–S cell-cycle arrest and autophagy. In vitro HUVEC tube formation, in vivo Matrigel plug, and rat aorta ring assays demonstrated that P7170 exhibited significant antiangiogenic activity. In addition, ALK1 knockdown studies in HUVEC confirmed that the antiangiogenic activity of P7170 was primarily due to ALK1 inhibition. Strong inhibition of ALK1 in addition to mTORC1/mTORC2 differentiates P7170 in its mechanism of action in comparison with existing inhibitors. In vivo mouse xenograft studies revealed P7170 to exhibit a significant dose-dependent tumor growth inhibition in a broad range of human tumor types when administered orally at 10 to 20 mg/kg doses. The distinctive pharmacological profile with favorable pharmacokinetic parameters and in vivo efficacy makes P7170 an attractive candidate for clinical development. It is currently being tested in phase I clinical studies. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1095–106. ©2015 AACR.


Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most frequent cause of death from cancer worldwide. Despite the availability of active chemotherapy regimens and EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors, all advanced patients develop recurrent disease after first-line therapy. Although Hsp27 is a stress-induced chaperone that promotes acquired resistance in several cancers, its relationship to treatment resistance in NSCLC has not been defined. Understanding adaptive responses of acquired resistance will help guide new strategies to control NSCLC. Hsp27 levels were evaluated in an HCC827 erlotinib-resistant–derived cell line (HCC-827Resistant), and sensitivity to erlotinib was examined in Hsp27-overexpressing A549 cells. The role of Hsp27 in both erlotinib and cytotoxic treatment resistance was evaluated in HCC-827 and A549 NSCLC cells using the Hsp27 antisense drug OGX-427. The effect of OGX-427 in combination with erlotinib was also assessed in mice bearing A549 xenografts. Hsp27 is induced by erlotinib and protects NSCLC cells from treatment-induced apoptosis, whereas OGX-427 sensitizes NSCLC cells to erlotinib. Interestingly, increased resistance to erlotinib was observed when Hsp27 was increased either in HCC827 erlotinib-resistant or overexpressing A549 cells. Combining OGX-427 with erlotinib significantly enhanced antitumor effects in vitro and delayed A549 xenograft growth in vivo. OGX-427 also significantly enhanced the activity of cytotoxic drugs used for NSCLC. These data indicate that treatment-induced Hsp27 contributes to the development of resistance, and provides preclinical proof-of-principle that inhibition of stress adaptive pathways mediated by Hsp27 enhances the activity of erlotinib and chemotherapeutics. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1107–16. ©2015 AACR.


Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive disease with a poor prognosis. Advances in the treatment of TNBC have been hampered by the lack of novel effective targeted therapies. The primary goal of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of targeting Aurora kinase A (AurA), a key regulator of mitosis, in TNBC models. A secondary objective was to determine the role of the p53 family of transcriptional regulators, commonly mutated in TNBC, in determining the phenotypic response to the AurA inhibitor alisertib (MLN8237). Alisertib exhibited potent antiproliferative and proapoptotic activity in a subset of TNBC models. The induction of apoptosis in response to alisertib exposure was dependent on p53 and p73 activity. In the absence of functional p53 or p73, there was a shift in the phenotypic response following alisertib exposure from apoptosis to cellular senescence. In addition, senescence was observed in patient-derived tumor xenografts with acquired resistance to alisertib treatment. AurA inhibitors are a promising class of novel therapeutics in TNBC. The role of p53 and p73 in mediating the phenotypic response to antimitotic agents in TNBC may be harnessed to develop an effective biomarker selection strategy in this difficult to target disease. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1117–29. ©2015 AACR.


Antibody–drug conjugates (ADC) are emerging as powerful cancer treatments that combine antibody-mediated tumor targeting with the potent cytotoxic activity of toxins. We recently reported the development of a novel ADC that delivers the cytotoxic payload monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE) to tumor cells expressing tissue factor (TF). By carefully selecting a TF-specific antibody that interferes with TF:FVIIa-dependent intracellular signaling, but not with the procoagulant activity of TF, an ADC was developed (TF-011-MMAE/HuMax-TF-ADC) that efficiently kills tumor cells, with an acceptable toxicology profile. To gain more insight in the efficacy of TF-directed ADC treatment, we compared the internalization characteristics and intracellular routing of TF with the EGFR and HER2. Both in absence and presence of antibody, TF demonstrated more efficient internalization, lysosomal targeting, and degradation than EGFR and HER2. By conjugating TF, EGFR, and HER2-specific antibodies with duostatin-3, a toxin that induces potent cytotoxicity upon antibody-mediated internalization but lacks the ability to induce bystander killing, we were able to compare cytotoxicity of ADCs with different tumor specificities. TF-ADC demonstrated effective killing against tumor cell lines with variable levels of target expression. In xenograft models, TF-ADC was relatively potent in reducing tumor growth compared with EGFR- and HER2-ADCs. We hypothesize that the constant turnover of TF on tumor cells makes this protein specifically suitable for an ADC approach. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1130–40. ©2015 AACR.


Despite clinical efficacy, current approved agents targeting EGFR are associated with on-target toxicities as a consequence of disrupting normal EGFR function. MAb 806 is a novel EGFR antibody that selectively targets a tumor-selective epitope suggesting that a mAb 806-based therapeutic would retain antitumor activity without the on-target toxicities associated with EGFR inhibition. To enable clinical development, a humanized variant of mAb 806 designated ABT-806 was generated and is currently in phase 1 trials. We describe the characterization of binding and functional properties of ABT-806 compared with the clinically validated anti-EGFR antibody cetuximab. ABT-806 binds the mutant EGFRvIII with high affinity and, relative to cetuximab, exhibits increased potency against glioblastoma multiforme cell line and patient-derived xenografts expressing this form of the receptor. ABT-806 also inhibits the growth of squamous cell carcinoma xenograft models expressing high levels of wild-type EGFR, associated with inhibition of EGFR signaling, although higher doses of ABT-806 than cetuximab are required for similar activity. ABT-806 enhances in vivo potency of standard-of-care therapies used to treat glioblastoma multiforme and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. An indium-labeled version of ABT-806, [111In]-ABT-806, used to investigate the relationship between dose and receptor occupancy, revealed greater receptor occupancy at lowers doses in an EGFRvIII-expressing model and significant uptake in an orthotopic model. Collectively, these results suggest that ABT-806 may have antitumor activity superior to cetuximab in EGFRvIII-expressing tumors, and similar activity to cetuximab in tumors highly overexpressing wild-type EGFR with reduced toxicity. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1141–51. ©2015 AACR.


Brain metastases occur in about 10% to 30% of breast cancer patients, which culminates in a poor prognosis. It is, therefore, critical to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying brain metastatic processes to identify relevant targets. We hypothesized that breast cancer cells must express brain-associated markers that would enable their invasion and survival in the brain microenvironment. We assessed a panel of brain-predominant markers and found an elevation of several neuronal markers (βIII-tubulin, Nestin, and AchE) in brain metastatic breast cancer cells. Among these neuronal predominant markers, in silico analysis revealed overexpression of βIII-tubulin (TUBB3) in breast cancer brain metastases (BCBM) and its expression was significantly associated with distant metastases. TUBB3 knockdown studies were conducted in breast cancer models (MDA-Br, GLIM2, and MDA-MB-468), which revealed significant reduction in their invasive capabilities. MDA-Br cells with suppressed TUBB3 also demonstrated loss of key signaling molecules such as β3 integrin, pFAK, and pSrc in vitro. Furthermore, TUBB3 knockdown in a brain metastatic breast cancer cell line compromised its metastatic ability in vivo, and significantly improved survival in a brain metastasis model. These results implicate a critical role of TUBB3 in conferring brain metastatic potential to breast cancer cells. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1152–61. ©2015 AACR.


The objective of this study was to evaluate the role of HOTAIR long noncoding RNA in gastric cancer metastasis. We analyzed HOTAIR expression levels by real-time reverse transcription PCR and Northern blot analysis in 100 gastric tissues (50 gastric cancer tissues and 50 adjacent normal mucosa), and in four gastric cancer cell lines. Transient RNAi-mediated knockdown and pcDNA-mediated overexpression of HOTAIR were performed. Stable shRNA-mediated knockdown and lentiviral-mediated overexpression of HOTAIR were to study the role of HOTAIR on in vivo tumorigenicity and metastatic burden in the context of xenograft assays. Proteomic profiling was performed to decipher differential protein expression in cells with different HOTAIR expression levels. One of the differentially regulated proteins, Poly r(C)-binding protein (PCBP) 1, was subsequently validated and its function evaluated through xenograft assays. Expression of HOTAIR was significantly higher in cancerous tissues than in adjacent normal mucosa. HOTAIR expression levels dictated in vitro and in vivo tumorigenicity and metastatic potential in these cells. PCBP1 and HOTAIR have an inverse relationship, both at expression level and in function. A direct interaction between the two was confirmed through RNA immunoprecipitation coupled with quantitative real-time PCR. PCBP1 was confirmed to be an inhibitor of gastric cancer pathogenesis and as functionally opposite to HOTAIR long noncoding RNA. In conclusion, HOTAIR expression may serve as a potentially important disease biomarker for the identification of high-risk gastric cancer patients. Moreover, our findings provide mechanistic evidence for HOTAIR overexpression and PCBP1 downregulation and the ensuing malignant phenotype in both cultured and xenograft gastric cancer cells. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1162–70. ©2015 AACR.


Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most frequent and lethal brain cancer. The lack of early detection methods, the presence of rapidly growing tumor cells, and the high levels of recurrence due to chemo- and radioresistance make this cancer an extremely difficult disease to treat. Emerging studies have focused on inhibiting AKT activation; here, we demonstrate that in primary GBM tumor samples, full-dose inhibition of AKT activity leads to differential responses among samples in the context of cell death and self-renewal, reinforcing the notion that GBM is a heterogeneous disease. In contrast, low-dose AKT inhibition when combined with fractionation of radiation doses leads to a significant apoptosis-mediated cell death of primary patient–derived GBM cells. Therefore, low-dose–targeted therapies might be better for radiosensitization of primary GBM cells and further allow for reducing the clinical toxicities often associated with targeting the AKT/PI3K/mTOR pathway. This work emphasizes the discrepancies between cell lines and primary tumors in drug testing, and indicates that there are salient differences between patients, highlighting the need for personalized medicine in treating high-grade glioma. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1171–80. ©2015 AACR.


Immune escape mechanisms promote tumor progression and are hurdles of cancer immunotherapy. Removing immunosuppressive cells before treatment can enhance efficacy. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) may be of interest to combine with immunotherapy, as it has been shown that the inhibitor sunitinib reduces myeloid suppressor cells in patients with renal cell carcinoma and dasatinib promotes expansion of natural killer–like lymphocytes in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). In this study, the capacity of dasatinib and imatinib to reduce myeloid suppressor cells and to induce immunomodulation in vivo was investigated ex vivo. Samples from CML patients treated with imatinib (n = 18) or dasatinib (n = 14) within a Nordic clinical trial (clinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT00852566) were investigated for the presence of CD11b+CD14CD33+ myeloid cells and inhibitory molecules (arginase I, myeloperoxidase, IL10) as well as the presence of natural killer cells, T cells (naïve/memory), and stimulatory cytokines (IL12, IFN, MIG, IP10). Both imatinib and dasatinib decreased the presence of CD11b+CD14CD33+ myeloid cells as well as the inhibitory molecules and the remaining myeloid suppressor cells had an increased CD40 expression. Monocytes also increased CD40 after therapy. Moreover, increased levels of CD40, IL12, natural killer cells, and experienced T cells were noted after TKI initiation. The presence of experienced T cells was correlated to a higher IFN and MIG plasma concentration. Taken together, the results demonstrate that both imatinib and dasatinib tilted the immunosuppressive CML tumor milieu towards promoting immune stimulation. Hence, imatinib and dasatinib may be of interest to combine with cancer immunotherapy. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1181–91. ©2015 AACR.


Endostatin is an endogenous angiogenesis inhibitor with broad-spectrum antitumor activities. Although the molecular mechanisms of endostatin have been extensively explored, the intrinsic biochemical characteristics of endostatin are not completely understood. Here, we revealed for the first time that endostatin embedded novel ATPase activity. Moreover, mutagenesis study showed that the ATPase activity of endostatin mutants positively correlated with effects on endothelial cell activities and tumor growth. E-M, an endostatin mutant with higher ATPase activity than that of wild-type (WT) endostatin, significantly increased endostatin-mediated inhibitory effects on endothelial cell proliferation, migration, tube formation, and adhesion. In vivo study showed that E-M displayed enhanced antitumor effects compared with WT. On the other hand, K96A, K96R, and E176A, endostatin mutants with lower ATPase activities than that of WT, showed reduced or comparable effects on targeting both in vitro endothelial cell activities and in vivo tumor angiogenesis and tumor growth. Furthermore, endostatin and its mutants exhibited distinct abilities in regulations of gene expression (Id1, Id3), cell signaling (Erk, p38, and Src phosphorylation), and intracellular ATP levels. Collectively, our study demonstrates that endostatin has novel ATPase activity, which mediates its antiangiogenic and antitumor activities, suggesting that construction of endostatin analogues with high ATPase activity may provide a new direction for the development of more potent antiangiogenic drugs. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1192–201. ©2015 AACR.


NISCH encodes the imidazoline receptor Nischarin and is a known tumor suppressor in many human malignancies; however, its roles in ovarian cancer are still largely unknown. Here, we aim to investigate the biologic functions of NISCH in ovarian cancer. We found that NISCH was significantly downregulated, which correlated considerably with advanced tumor stage, poor differentiation, lymph node metastasis, and the serous/mucinous subtypes in a panel of ovarian cancer tissues. Moreover, NISCH gene silencing was mainly the product of promoter hypermethylation, which could be reversed by treatment with 5-aza-dC. In vitro, NISCH overexpression suppressed cell proliferation and colony formation by hindering cell-cycle progression, whereas the opposite was observed in NISCH knockdown counterparts. In vivo, abundant NISCH expression hindered the growth of HO8910 xenografts, whereas NISCH knockdown accelerated the growth of SKOV3 xenografts. In addition, NISCH significantly attenuated cell invasion by inhibiting the phosphorylation of FAK and ERK, which could be neutralized by PF-562271 (a FAK/Pyk2 inhibitor). Accordingly, NISCH knockdown xenografts exhibited increased peritoneal/pelvic metastases that were not present in counterparts treated with PF-562271. Furthermore, NISCH expression in primary ovarian cancer cells predicted a cellular resistance to PF-562271. In conclusion, we showed that NISCH was frequently silenced by promoter hypermethylation in human ovarian cancer. NISCH manipulated cellular proliferation and invasion by arresting cell cycle and inhibiting the FAK signal. Our findings revealed the biologic functions of NISCH in ovarian cancer, and might be useful for treating patients with aberrant expression of NISCH. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1202–12. ©2015 AACR.


The CDH1 gene, which encodes the cell-to-cell adhesion protein E-cadherin, is frequently mutated in lobular breast cancer (LBC) and diffuse gastric cancer (DGC). However, because E-cadherin is a tumor suppressor protein and lost from the cancer cell, it is not a conventional drug target. To overcome this, we have taken a synthetic lethal approach to determine whether the loss of E-cadherin creates druggable vulnerabilities. We first conducted a genome-wide siRNA screen of isogenic MCF10A cells with and without CDH1 expression. Gene ontology analysis demonstrated that G-protein–coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling proteins were highly enriched among the synthetic lethal candidates. Diverse families of cytoskeletal proteins were also frequently represented. These broad classes of E-cadherin synthetic lethal hits were validated using both lentiviral-mediated shRNA knockdown and specific antagonists, including the JAK inhibitor LY2784544, Pertussis toxin, and the aurora kinase inhibitors alisertib and danusertib. Next, we conducted a 4,057 known drug screen and time course studies on the CDH1 isogenic MCF10A cell lines and identified additional drug classes with linkages to GPCR signaling and cytoskeletal function that showed evidence of E-cadherin synthetic lethality. These included multiple histone deacetylase inhibitors, including vorinostat and entinostat, PI3K inhibitors, and the tyrosine kinase inhibitors crizotinib and saracatinib. Together, these results demonstrate that E-cadherin loss creates druggable vulnerabilities that have the potential to improve the management of both sporadic and familial LBC and DGC. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1213–23. ©2015 AACR.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide and hyperactivation of mTOR signaling plays a pivotal role in HCC tumorigenesis. Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a heterodimer of TSC1 and TSC2, functions as a negative regulator of mTOR signaling. In the current study, we discovered that TSC2 loss-of-function is common in HCC. TSC2 loss was found in 4 of 8 HCC cell lines and 8 of 28 (28.6%) patient-derived HCC xenografts. TSC2 mutations and deletions are likely to be the underlying cause of TSC2 loss in HCC cell lines, xenografts, and primary tumors for most cases. We further demonstrated that TSC2-null HCC cell lines and xenografts had elevated mTOR signaling and, more importantly, were significantly more sensitive to RAD001/everolimus, an mTORC1 inhibitor. These preclinical findings led to the analysis of TSC2 status in HCC samples collected in the EVOLVE-1 clinical trial of everolimus using an optimized immunohistochemistry assay and identified 15 of 139 (10.8%) samples with low to undetectable levels of TSC2. Although the sample size is too small for formal statistical analysis, TSC2-null/low tumor patients who received everolimus tended to have longer overall survival than those who received placebo. Finally, we performed an epidemiology survey of more than 239 Asian HCC tumors and found the frequency of TSC2 loss to be approximately 20% in Asian HBV+ HCC. Taken together, our data strongly argue that TSC2 loss is a predictive biomarker for the response to everolimus in HCC patients. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1224–35. ©2015 AACR.


Melanoma and other solid cancers are frequently resistant to chemotherapies based on DNA alkylating agents such as dacarbazine and temozolomide. As a consequence, clinical responses are generally poor. Such resistance is partly due to the ability of cancer cells to use a variety of DNA repair enzymes to maintain cell viability. Particularly, the expression of MGMT has been linked to temozolomide resistance, but cotargeting MGMT has proven difficult due to dose-limiting toxicities. Here, we show that the MGMT-mediated resistance of cancer cells is profoundly dependent on the DNA repair enzyme PARP. Both in vitro and in vivo, we observe that MGMT-positive cancer cells strongly respond to the combination of temozolomide and PARP inhibitors (PARPi), whereas MGMT-deficient cells do not. In melanoma cells, temozolomide induced an antiproliferative senescent response, which was greatly enhanced by PARPi in MGMT-positive cells. In summary, we provide compelling evidence to suggest that the stratification of patients with cancer upon the MGMT status would enhance the success of combination treatments using temozolomide and PARPi. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1236–46. ©2015 AACR.


Newcastle disease virus (NDV) is considered a promising agent for cancer therapy due to its oncolytic properties. These include preferential replication in transformed cells, induction of innate and adaptive immune responses within tumors, and cytopathic effects in infected tumor cells due to the activation of apoptosis. To enhance the latter and thus possibly enhance the overall oncolytic activity of NDV, we generated a recombinant NDV encoding the human TNF receptor Fas (rNDV-B1/Fas). rNDV-B1/Fas replicates to similar titers as its wild-type (rNDV-B1) counterpart; however, overexpression of Fas in infected cells leads to higher levels of cytotoxicity correlated with faster and increased apoptosis responses, in which both the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways are activated earlier. Furthermore, in vivo studies in syngeneic murine melanoma models show an enhancement of the oncolytic properties of rNDV-B1/Fas, with major improvements in survival and tumor remission. Altogether, our data suggest that upregulation of the proapoptotic function of NDV is a viable approach to enhance its antitumor properties and adds to the currently known, rationally based strategies to design optimized therapeutic viral vectors for the treatment of cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1247–58. ©2015 AACR.


In this article, we report the development and preclinical validation of combinatorial therapy for treatment of cancers using RNA interference (RNAi). RNAi technology is an attractive approach to silence genes responsible for disease onset and progression. Currently, the critical challenge facing the clinical success of RNAi technology is in the difficulty of delivery of RNAi inducers, due to low transfection efficiency, difficulties of integration into host DNA and unstable expression. Using the macromolecule polyglycidal methacrylate (PGMA) as a platform to graft multiple polyethyleneimine (PEI) chains, we demonstrate effective delivery of small oligos (anti-miRs and mimics) and larger DNAs (encoding shRNAs) in a wide variety of cancer cell lines by successful silencing/activation of their respective target genes. Furthermore, the effectiveness of this therapy was validated for in vivo tumor suppression using two transgenic mouse models; first, tumor growth arrest and increased animal survival was seen in mice bearing Brca2/p53-mutant mammary tumors following daily intratumoral treatment with nanoparticles conjugated to c-Myc shRNA. Second, oral delivery of the conjugate to an Apc-deficient crypt progenitor colon cancer model increased animal survival and returned intestinal tissue to a non–wnt-deregulated state. This study demonstrates, through careful design of nonviral nanoparticles and appropriate selection of therapeutic gene targets, that RNAi technology can be made an affordable and amenable therapy for cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(5); 1259–69. ©2015 AACR.