Scientists Discover Better Drug Options For Colorectal Cancer Patients

People suffering from colorectal cancer are usually among the first ones to receive targeted therapies. These drugs block the cancer-causing proteins, which set off the out-of-control cell growth even while not impacting the healthy tissues. However, some patients are not eligible for the treatment as they have cancer supporting mutations, which are known to be resistant to these drugs.

In their latest research, Salk Assistant Professor and physician-scientist Edward Stites made use of computing modelling and cell studies to arrive at the conclusion that more patients can get the cure by using a common class of targeted therapies.

Commenting on the findings, Stites, who is also the paper's senior author, said, "Colorectal cancer patients who have tried all of the standard treatment options but still seen their cancer progress are in need of new options. Our study suggests that one already available targeted therapy could benefit up to 12,000 additional colon cancer patients every year. Our findings are pre-clinical, and we hope this research will motivate clinicians to develop clinical trials that further examine our results."

In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration or FDA had given approval to cetuximab, the first drug to block EGFR activity in colorectal cancer. Since then, other drugs, which target EGFR have also secured approval. But from the early development of these drugs, doctors believed that patients with a mutation in any one of the family of proteins known as RAS would not respond to the EGFR drugs. Therefore, whenever molecular testing of a patient's tumor revealed a RAS mutation, the patient was not offered these targeted therapies.

The researchers used cells from cancers that were identical except for specific RAS mutations. This allowed them to compare how each specific mutation affected the response to EGFR-inhibiting drugs. They found that some RAS mutations did not prevent the drugs from working. These experiments also allowed them to validate their computational studies, which helps establish how new computational methods could contribute to improving treatment options for cancer patients.

Ultimately, the investigators identified 10 distinct RAS mutations that do not preclude the use of EGFR inhibitors. Many of the drugs that would work for these mutations are already approved by the FDA for other uses, which means that doctors could start prescribing them for their patients "off label" even before clinical trials are conducted.

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