Targeted cancer drugs have helped many patients live longer and healthier lives, but researchers still aren't sure why some of these drugs work in certain patients and not in others, says Technology Review's Emily Singer. Researchers are starting to learn more about how the drugs work by examining the inner workings of cancer cells, which could enable a new approach to personalized treatment — specific combinations of drugs that would more effectively treat a patient's cancer, Singer adds. MIT's Philip Sharp says important research is now being done on cancer's cellular networks and mutations to predict correct drug combinations. For example, EGFR inhibitors work in about 10 percent to 40 percent of lung cancer patients, but EGFR mutations are as predictive as researchers had hoped as to which patients will respond better to the drug, Singer says. But researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center studying the cellular networks of EGFR-resistant cancer cells found they could make the cells sensitive to the drug by inhibiting certain genes in a specific molecular pathway, NF-κB. And, they found that lung cancer patients with EGFR mutations in this pathway didn't respond as well to the drug as patients with lower activity in this pathway, Singer says. "The results suggest that EGFR inhibitors would be more effective in some patients if given along with drugs that inhibit the [NF-κB] pathway," she adds. Other researchers are taking other approaches, but they are all studying the networks of the cancer cell, and making discoveries which could eventually lead to more efficient treatment for cancer patients.
More Information, Better Treatment
Mar 29, 2011