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Friday, November 16, 2012

Brute force cancer drug testing

There are different ways of finding effective anti-cancer drugs. You can carefully select the likeliest drugs based on their mode of action. Or you can throw everything you have at tumor cells and see what works. Susan Holbeck of the National Cancer Institute and her colleagues chose the latter route. Their results were presented at the 24th EORTC-NCI-ACCR (don’t ask) Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics.

There are currently a hundred approved anti-cancer drugs. Holbeck and her colleagues were interested in whether any of these drugs would be more effective against specific types of tumor if the drugs were used in combination. To that end, they tested all 5000 different drug combinations in 60 cell lines over the course of 300,000 experiments. The cell lines were chosen both because they were derived from nine distinct types of cancer and because they are well characterized (gene expression and other parameters are well understood in these cells).

As hoped, some of the drug combinations showed great promise in a few or many of the cell lines. A couple of the combinations have since been tested in mice and seem to be more effective than single drug regimens. Because all the drugs have already been approved for use in humans as single agents, the researchers hope that they can fast track any promising combinations into clinical trials.