Synergy between two cancer-linked proteins offers hope for personalized cancer therapy

Aug. 8, 2013

A research team from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), part of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), has discovered a new biomarker which may help physicians predict how well patients will respond to cancer drugs. Having the means to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from currently available cancer drugs reduces healthcare costs and gets the right drugs to patients at the onset of the treatment. This study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, boosts the development of personalized medicine in cancer care and therapy.

Increasingly, there is evidence to show that in many cancers that have metastasized, a protein called PRL-3 is often found to be present at unusually high levels. Since it was first identified in 1998 several research groups have found evidence to support the strong link between elevated levels of PRL-3 protein and the metastasis of aggressive cancers in the lung, liver, colon, and breast. This cancer-promoting action of PRL-3 makes it an ideal target for cancer diagnostics and treatment.

In this study, the IMCB team discovered a synergy between PRL-3 and EGFR, another cancer-linked protein often associated with breast and lung cancers. They found that cancer cells with higher levels of PRL-3 not only hyperactivate EGFR, but also develop an “addiction” to it to survive. Consequently, by suppressing EGFR activity with EGFR inhibitor drugs, the scientists observed that cancer cells with higher levels of PRL-3 were more rapidly destroyed. To validate these findings in humans, the team collaborated with researchers from Singapore’s National University Health System to run an analysis on pre-existing clinical data of colorectal cancer patients. The results confirmed that patients who respond better to EGFR inhibitor drugs were those suffering from cancers with abnormally high levels of PRL-3. Read the study.