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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

Most patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) relapse and die of their disease. Increasing evidence indicates that AML relapse is driven by the inability to eradicate leukemia stem cells (LSC). Thus, it is imperative to identify novel therapies that can ablate LSCs. Using an in silico gene expression–based screen for compounds evoking transcriptional effects similar to the previously described anti-LSC agent parthenolide, we identified AR-42 (OSU-HDAC42), a novel histone deacetylase inhibitor that is structurally similar to phenylbutyrate, but with improved activity at submicromolar concentrations. Here, we report that AR-42 induces NF-B inhibition, disrupts the ability of Hsp90 to stabilize its oncogenic clients, and causes potent and specific cell death of LSCs but not normal hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells. Unlike parthenolide, the caspase-dependent apoptosis caused by AR-42 occurs without activation of Nrf-2–driven cytoprotective pathways. As AR-42 is already being tested in early clinical trials, we expect that our results can be extended to the clinic. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 1979–90. ©2014 AACR.

Chemoresistance is a major cause of cancer treatment failure. Tumor-initiating cells (TIC) have attracted a considerable amount of attention due to their role in chemoresistance and tumor recurrence. Here, we evaluated the small molecule Aurora kinase inhibitor AKI603 as a novel agent against TICs in breast cancer. AKI603 significantly inhibited Aurora-A (AurA) kinase and induced cell-cycle arrest. In addition, the intragastric administration of AKI603 reduced xenograft tumor growth. Interestingly, we found that breast cancer cells that were resistant to epirubicin expressed a high level of activated AurA and also have a high CD24Low/CD44High TIC population. The inhibition of AurA kinase by AKI603 abolished the epirubicin-induced enrichment of TICs. Moreover, AKI603 suppressed the capacity of cells to form mammosphere and also suppressed the expression of self-renewal genes (β-catenin, c-Myc, Sox2, and Oct4). Thus, our work suggests the potential clinical use of the small molecule Aurora kinase inhibitor AKI603 to overcome drug resistance induced by conventional chemotherapeutics in breast cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 1991–2003. ©2014 AACR.

Patients with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a malignant primary brain tumor, inevitably develop resistance to standard-of-care chemotherapy, temozolomide. This study explores the effects of the novel agent NEO212, a conjugate of temozolomide to perillyl alcohol, on temozolomide-resistant gliomas. NEO212 was tested for cytotoxic activity on three human temozolomide-resistant glioma cell lines, which were resistant to temozolomide based on overexpression of the base excision repair (BER) pathway, mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, or overexpression of O6 methyl-guanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT). BER expression was evaluated by Western blotting and PARP activity. MMR deficiency was determined by Western blotting and microsatellite instability. MGMT overexpression was evaluated by Western blotting and O6-benzylguanine (O6BG) inhibition. For in vivo evaluation of NEO212, temozolomide-resistant glioma cells were implanted into immune-incompetent mice, and NEO212 was administered. NEO212, at equimolar concentrations of temozolomide, was more cytotoxic for temozolomide-resistant cells than temozolomide and not toxic to normal cells. NEO212-induced cell death in temozolomide-resistant glioma cells was independent of such mechanisms of resistance as high levels of MGMT, MMR deficiencies, or overexpression of BER proteins. NEO212 functions as a DNA alkylating agent, similar to temozolomide; however, this novel conjugate is unique for it may induce endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and inhibits autophagy. In vivo studies show that NEO212 reduces intracranial tumor growth and increases animal survival without significant toxicity. These results demonstrate that NEO212 is an effective drug against malignant gliomas that can be used for a broad range of newly diagnosed and temozolomide-resistant gliomas. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2004–17. ©2014 AACR.

Improved survival for patients with head and neck cancers (HNC) with recurrent and metastatic disease warrants that cancer therapy is specific, with protected delivery of the therapeutic agent to primary and metastatic cancer cells. A further objective should be that downregulation of the intracellular therapy target leads to cell death without compensation by an alternate pathway. To address these goals, we report the utilization of a sub–50-nm tenfibgen (s50-TBG) nanocapsule that delivers RNAi oligonucleotides directed against the essential survival signal protein kinase CK2 (RNAi-CK2) in a cancer cell–specific manner. We have evaluated mechanism and efficacy of using s50-TBG-RNAi-CK2 nanocapsules for therapy of primary and metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). s50-TBG nanocapsules enter cancer cells via the lipid raft/caveolar pathway and deliver their cargo (RNAi-CK2) preferentially to malignant but not normal tissues in mice. Our data suggest that RNAi-CK2, a unique single-stranded oligonucleotide, co-opts the argonaute 2/RNA-induced silencing complex pathway to target the CK2αα' mRNAs. s50-TBG-RNAi-CK2 inhibited cell growth corresponding with reduced CK2 expression in targeted tumor cells. Treatment of three xenograft HNSCC models showed that primary tumors and metastases responded to s50-TBG-RNAi-CK2 therapy, with tumor shrinkage and 6-month host survival that was achieved at relatively low doses of the therapeutic agent without any adverse toxic effect in normal tissues in the mice. We suggest that our nanocapsule technology and anti-CK2 targeting combine into a therapeutic modality with a potential of significant translational promise. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2018–29. ©2014 AACR.

Upregulation of HER2 is a hallmark of 20% to 30% of invasive breast cancers, rendering this receptor an attractive target for cancer therapy. Although HER2-targeting agents have provided substantial clinical benefit as cancer therapeutics, there is a need for the development of new agents aiming at circumventing anti-HER2 resistance. On the basis of the approved antibody pertuzumab, we have created a panel of bispecific FynomAbs, which target two epitopes on HER2. FynomAbs are fusion proteins of an antibody and a Fyn SH3–derived binding protein. One bispecific FynomAb, COVA208, was characterized in detail and showed a remarkable ability to induce rapid HER2 internalization and apoptosis in vitro. Moreover, it elicited a strong inhibition of downstream HER2 signaling by reducing HER2, HER3, and EGFR levels in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, COVA208 demonstrated superior activity in four different xenograft models as compared with the approved antibodies trastuzumab and pertuzumab. The bispecific FynomAb COVA208 has the potential to enhance the clinical efficacy and expand the scope of HER2-directed therapies, and delineates a paradigm for designing a new class of antibody-based therapeutics for other receptor targets. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2030–9. ©2014 AACR.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) has a dismal prognosis, and new therapies are needed. RG7787 is a novel low-immunogenic antimesothelin recombinant immunotoxin (RIT), engineered to overcome the limitations of SS1P, a RIT now in clinical trials. In vitro activity was evaluated on five established PDAC cell lines (KLM-1, AsPC-1, BxPC-3, Panc 3.014, and PK-1) and on PDAC cells directly established from a patient tumor (GUMC108). RG7787 had subnanomolar IC50s in most cell lines, and was significantly more active than SS1P in GUMC108, KLM-1, and Panc 3.014 cells. GUMC108 was most sensitive, with RG7787 killing >99% of the cells. In a subcutaneous KLM-1 xenograft mouse model, two cycles of 3 x 2.5 mg/kg RG7787 QOD combined with two cycles of 1 x 50 mg/kg paclitaxel induced near-complete responses, with all tumors regressing below 5 mm3 within 30 days after therapy was initiated (>95% decrease) and no significant growth increase for at least another 3 weeks. RG7787 alone gave limited but significant regressions and paclitaxel by itself arrested tumor growth. Quantifying the uptake of Alexa Fluor 647–labeled RG7787 in tumors showed that the RIT reached only 45% of KLM-1 cells, accounting in part for the limited responses. Paclitaxel did not improve RG7787 uptake, which thus cannot explain the beneficial effect of the combination therapy. In conclusion, RG7787 has high cytotoxic activity on PDAC cell lines as well as on primary patient cells. In vivo, this novel RIT gives durable near-complete tumor responses when combined with paclitaxel. RG7787 merits further evaluation for the treatment of PDAC. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2040–9. ©2014 AACR.

Ovarian cancer ascites fluid contains matrix proteins that can impact tumor growth via integrin receptor binding. In human ovarian tumor tissue arrays, we find that activation of the cytoplasmic focal adhesion (FAK) tyrosine kinase parallels increased tumor stage, β5 integrin, and osteopontin matrix staining. Elevated osteopontin, β5 integrin, and FAK mRNA levels are associated with decreased serous ovarian cancer patient survival. FAK remains active within ovarian cancer cells grown as spheroids, and anchorage-independent growth analyses of seven ovarian carcinoma cell lines identified sensitive (HEY, OVCAR8) and resistant (SKOV3-IP, OVCAR10) cells to 0.1 μmol/L FAK inhibitor (VS-4718, formerly PND-1186) treatment. VS-4718 promoted HEY and OVCAR8 G0–G1 cell-cycle arrest followed by cell death, whereas growth of SKOV3-IP and OVCAR10 cells was resistant to 1.0 μmol/L VS-4718. In HEY cells, genetic or pharmacological FAK inhibition prevented tumor growth in mice with corresponding reductions in β5 integrin and osteopontin expression. β5 knockdown reduced HEY cell growth in soft agar, tumor growth in mice, and both FAK Y397 phosphorylation and osteopontin expression in spheroids. FAK inhibitor–resistant (SKOV3-IP, OVCAR10) cells exhibited anchorage-independent Akt S473 phosphorylation, and expression of membrane-targeted and active Akt in sensitive cells (HEY, OVCAR8) increased growth but did not create a FAK inhibitor–resistant phenotype. These results link osteopontin, β5 integrin, and FAK in promoting ovarian tumor progression. β5 integrin expression may serve as a biomarker for serous ovarian carcinoma cells that possess active FAK signaling. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2050–61. ©2014 AACR.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most common and therapeutically challenging malignancies worldwide. For patients ineligible for "curative resection" or liver transplantation, chemotherapy is an important minimally effective option. Strategies for chemosensitization are urgently needed. Here, we report that LB-100, a serine/threonine protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) inhibitor, enhances the cytotoxicity of chemotherapy for HCC in vitro and in vivo. We found that LB-100 significantly enhanced inhibition of HCC by doxorubicin and cisplatin in vitro and in vivo in a PP2A-dependent way, while having little inhibitory activity when used alone. LB-100 promoted vascular endothelial growth factor secretion and vasculogenic mimicry, associated with increased microvessel density and blood perfusion of tumor cell xenografts. LB-100 also enhanced paracellular endothelial permeability to Evans Blue dye and doxorubicin in vivo and in vitro, presumably by altering vascular endothelial–cadherin contact between cells. Changes in permeability and perfusion were accompanied by increased accumulation of doxorubicin in HCC xenografts but not in normal liver tissue. In conclusion, LB-100 enhances chemotherapy by interfering with DNA damage–induced defense mechanisms and by increasing angiogenesis and drug penetration into tumor cells. The induction of angiogenesis and vascular permeability of tumor xenografts by inhibition of PP2A may be a novel approach for enhancing the cytotoxic treatment of HCC and potentially other cancers. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2062–72. ©2014 AACR.

The majority of uveal melanomas carry oncogenic mutations in the G proteins GNAQ and GNA11, with consequent activation of the MAPK pathway. Selective MEK inhibitors, such as selumetinib, have shown clinical benefit in uveal melanoma. However, mechanisms of drug resistance limit their efficacy in some patients. Analysis of MEK inhibitor–resistant uveal melanoma cell lines revealed the induction of RAS protein expression and activity. This effect was mediated by the RNA helicase DDX43, which was remarkably overexpressed in these cells. Depletion of DDX43 in MEK inhibitor–resistant cells decreased RAS proteins and inhibited ERK and AKT pathways. On the contrary, ectopic expression of DDX43 in parental uveal melanoma cells induced RAS protein levels and rendered cells resistant to MEK inhibition. Similar to DDX43 depletion, downregulation of KRAS, HRAS, and NRAS inhibited downstream pathways in the resistant cells, overcoming mutant GNAQ signaling. We also analyzed the expression of DDX43 in liver metastases of patients with uveal melanoma by RT-PCR, and found a significant overexpression of DDX43 in patients who did not benefit from selumetinib therapy. In conclusion, DDX43 induces RAS protein expression and signaling, mediating a novel mechanism of MEK inhibitor resistance. The detection of DDX43 in patients with uveal melanoma could lead to more targeted therapies for this disease. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2073–80. ©2014 AACR.

The TGFβ-mediated alteration of the tumor microenvironment plays a crucial role in tumor progression. Mesothelial cells are the primary components of the tumor microenvironment for ovarian cancer cells; however, the exact role of TGFβ-stimulated mesothelial cells in ovarian cancer progression remains uncertain. In this report, we examined the effects of TGFβ-treated mesothelial cells on ovarian cancer progression. We show that TGFβ-stimulated human primary mesothelial cells (HPMC) are able to promote cancer cell attachment and proliferation and the activation of the promoter activities of MMP-2 and MMP-9, which are metalloproteinases necessary for tumor invasion. Expression of the miR200 family was downregulated in HPMCs by TGFβ stimulation, and restoration of the expression of miR200 family members in HPMCs suppressed cancer cell attachment and proliferation. Downregulation of the miR200 family by TGFβ induced fibronectin 1 production, which promoted cancer cell attachment to HPMCs. Finally, we demonstrated that the delivery of the miR200s to mesothelial cells in mice inhibited ovarian cancer cell implantation and dissemination. Our results suggest that alteration of the tumor microenvironment by the miR200 family could be a novel therapeutic strategy for ovarian cancer treatment. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2081–91. ©2014 AACR.

Cabazitaxel, a novel chemotherapeutic taxane, is effective against docetaxel-resistant cells and tumors. It is approved for treatment of metastatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer in patients pretreated with docetaxel. Objective responses have been observed in many other cancers, including pretreated metastatic breast cancer. Cabazitaxel and docetaxel share a high degree of structural similarity. The basis for cabazitaxel's efficacy is unclear, and its mechanism has not been described. We compared the effects of cabazitaxel and docetaxel on MCF7 human breast cancer cells expressing fluorescent tubulin. Both drugs inhibited cell proliferation (IC50s, cabazitaxel, 0.4 ± 0.1 nmol/L, docetaxel, 2.5 ± 0.5 nmol/L) and arrested cells in metaphase by inducing mitotic spindle abnormalities. Drug concentrations required for half-maximal mitotic arrest at 24 hours were similar (1.9 nmol/L cabazitaxel and 2.2 nmol/L docetaxel). Cabazitaxel suppressed microtubule dynamic instability significantly more potently than docetaxel. In particular, cabazitaxel (2 nmol/L) suppressed the microtubule shortening rate by 59% (compared with 49% for 2 nmol/L docetaxel), the growing rate by 33% (vs. 19%), and overall dynamicity by 83% (vs. 64%). Cabazitaxel was taken up into cells significantly faster than docetaxel, attaining an intracellular concentration of 25 μmol/L within 1 hour, compared with 10 hours for docetaxel. Importantly, after washing, the intracellular cabazitaxel concentration remained high, whereas the docetaxel concentration was significantly reduced. The data indicate that the potency of cabazitaxel in docetaxel-resistant tumors is due to stronger suppression of microtubule dynamics, faster drug uptake, and better intracellular retention than occurs with docetaxel. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2092–103. ©2014 AACR.

Breast cancer patients with tumors lacking the three diagnostic markers (ER, PR, and HER2) are classified as triple-negative (primarily basal-like) and have poor prognosis because there is no disease-specific therapy available. To address this unmet medical need, gene expression analyses using more than a thousand breast cancer samples were conducted, which identified elevated centromere protein E (CENP-E) expression in the basal-a molecular subtype relative to other subtypes. CENP-E, a mitotic kinesin component of the spindle assembly checkpoint, is shown to be induced in basal-a tumor cell lines by the mitotic spindle inhibitor drug docetaxel. CENP-E knockdown by inducible shRNA reduces basal-a breast cancer cell viability. A potent, selective CENP-E inhibitor (PF-2771) was used to define the contribution of CENP-E motor function to basal-like breast cancer. Mechanistic evaluation of PF-2771 in basal-a tumor cells links CENP-E–dependent molecular events (e.g., phosphorylation of histone H3 Ser-10; phospho-HH3-Ser10) to functional outcomes (e.g., chromosomal congression defects). Across a diverse panel of breast cell lines, CENP-E inhibition by PF-2771 selectively inhibits proliferation of basal breast cancer cell lines relative to premalignant ones and its response correlates with the degree of chromosomal instability. Pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic efficacy analysis in a basal-a xenograft tumor model shows that PF-2771 exposure is well correlated with increased phospho-HH3-Ser10 levels and tumor growth regression. Complete tumor regression is observed in a patient-derived, basal-a breast cancer xenograft tumor model treated with PF-2771. Tumor regression is also observed with PF-2771 in a taxane-resistant basal-a model. Taken together, CENP-E may be an effective therapeutic target for patients with triple-negative/basal-a breast cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2104–15. ©2014 AACR.

Drug screening against novel targets is warranted to generate biochemical probes and new therapeutic drug leads. TDP1 and TDP2 are two DNA repair enzymes that have yet to be successfully targeted. TDP1 repairs topoisomerase I–, alkylation-, and chain terminator–induced DNA damage, whereas TDP2 repairs topoisomerase II–induced DNA damage. Here, we report the quantitative high-throughput screening (qHTS) of the NIH Molecular Libraries Small Molecule Repository using recombinant human TDP1. We also developed a secondary screening method using a multiple loading gel-based assay where recombinant TDP1 is replaced by whole cell extract (WCE) from genetically engineered DT40 cells. While developing this assay, we determined the importance of buffer conditions for testing TDP1, and most notably the possible interference of phosphate-based buffers. The high specificity of endogenous TDP1 in WCE allowed the evaluation of a large number of hits with up to 600 samples analyzed per gel via multiple loadings. The increased stringency of the WCE assay eliminated a large fraction of the initial hits collected from the qHTS. Finally, inclusion of a TDP2 counter-screening assay allowed the identification of two novel series of selective TDP1 inhibitors. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2116–26. ©2014 AACR.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) represent a new tool for delivery of therapeutic agents to cancer sites because of their strong tropism toward tumors. IL15 has demonstrated a potent antitumor activity in various animal models as well as clinical trials. However, because of its short half-life, effective therapeutic effects usually require a high dose, which often results in undesired side effects; thus, new strategies for overcoming this disadvantage are needed. In this study, human MSCs were isolated from umbilical cord blood as delivery vehicles and transduced with lentivirus vector expressing murine IL15 (MSC-IL15). In vitro assays of lymphocyte activation and proliferation demonstrated that IL15 produced by MSCs was biofunctional. In syngeneic mice bearing Pan02 pancreatic tumors, systemic administration of MSC-IL15 significantly inhibited tumor growth and prolonged the survival of tumor-bearing mice, which were associated with tumor cell apoptosis, and natural killer (NK)– and T-cell accumulation. Furthermore, we confirmed that MSC-IL15 could migrate toward tumor and secreted IL15 in tumor-specific sites. Depletion of NK and CD8+ T cells abolished the antitumor activity of MSC-IL15, suggesting that NK and CD8+ T cells play a key role for MSC-IL15–mediated effect. Interestingly, cured mice after MSC-IL15 treatment were resistant to Pan02 pancreatic tumor rechallenge, and adoptive transfer of lymphocytes from cured mice also could cause rejection of Pan02 tumor inoculation in naïve mice, indicating that MSC-IL15 induced tumor-specific T-cell immune memory response. Overall, these data support that MSCs producing IL15 might represent an innovative strategy for therapy of pancreatic tumor. Mol Cancer Ther; 13(8); 2127–37. ©2014 AACR.