PARP Inhibitor MK-4827 Shows Anti-Tumor Activity in First Human Clinical Study

MK-4827, a new drug that targets proteins responsible for helping cancer cells repair their damaged DNA, has shown promising anti-tumor activity in its first human clinical trial.

MK-4827, a new drug that targets proteins responsible for helping cancer cells repair their damaged DNA, has shown promising anti-tumour activity in its first human clinical trial. Some patients with a range of solid tumors, many of whom had been treated unsuccessfully for their cancer with other therapies, have seen their tumors shrink or stabilize for periods of between 46 days to more than a year. The research will be presented today (Thursday) at the 22nd EORTCNCIAACR [1] Symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics, which is being held in Berlin, Germany.

PARP is a key signaling enzyme involved in triggering the repair of single-strand DNA damage. PARP inhibition has been demonstrated to selectively kill tumor cells lacking components of the homologous recombination (HR) DNA repair pathway while sparing normal cells. Known defects in HR repair include the well-characterized hereditary BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in breast and ovarian cancer, as well as nonhereditary BRCA mutations. (Photo Credit: AstraZeneca Oncology)

Laboratory studies of the drug, MK-4827, have shown that it inhibits proteins called PARP1 and PARP2 (poly(ADP)-ribose polymerase). PARP is involved in a number of cellular processes and one of its important functions is to assist in the repair of single-strand breaks in DNA. Notably, if one single-strand DNA break is replicated (replication occurs before cell division), then it results in a double-strand break.  By inhibiting the action of PARP, double-strand breaks occur, which in turn, lead to cell death. Tumors that are caused by a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are susceptible to cell death through PARP inhibition because correctly functioning BRCA genes assist in repairing double-strand DNA breaks via a process called homologous-recombination-dependent DNA repair, whereas mutated versions are unable to perform this role. Normal cells do not replicate as often as cancer cells and they still have homologous repair operating; this enables them to survive the inhibition of PARP and makes PARP a good target for anti-cancer therapy.

In a Phase I trial [2] conducted at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa Florida, USA), University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison, USA) and the Royal Marsden Hospital (London, UK), MK-4827 was given to 59 patients (46 women, 13 men) with a range of solid tumors such as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), prostate cancer, sarcoma, melanoma and breast and ovarian cancers. Some patients had cancers caused by mutations in the BRCA1/2 genes, such as breast and ovarian cancer, but others had cancers that had arisen sporadically.

Robert M. Wenham, M.D., MS, FACOG, Clinical Director, Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Women's Oncology, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center

The drug was given in pill form once a day, and the researchers found that the maximum tolerated dose was 300 mg per day. Dr. Robert Wenham, Clinical Director for Gynecologic Oncology in the Department of Women’s Oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center, who is presenting data on behalf of the participating investigators, said: “MK-4827 is generally well tolerated, with the main dose-limiting toxicity being thrombocytopenia – an abnormal decrease in the number of platelets in the circulatory blood. The most common side effects are mild nausea, vomiting, anorexia and fatigue.”

The researchers saw anti-tumor responses in both sporadic (non-inherited) and BRCA1/2 mutation-associated cancers [emphasis added]. Ten patients with breast and ovarian cancers had partial responses, with progression-free survival between 51-445 days, and seven of these patients are still responding to treatment. Four patients (two with ovarian cancer and two with NSCLC) had stable disease for between 130-353 days.

Dr. Wenham said: “Most patients in the trial had exhausted standard therapies and those who responded to this drug have benefited. Several patients have been receiving treatment for more than a year. The responses mean that MK-4827 is working as hoped and justify additional studies. Just how well MK-4827 works compared to other treatments is the goal of the next set of studies.”

He gave a possible explanation as to why patients with cancers that were not caused by BRCA1 or BRCA 2 gene mutations also responded to the PARP inhibition. “BRCA is a tumor suppressor gene that assists in repairing double stranded DNA breaks. In BRCA-mutation related cancers, loss of both copies of the gene results in a non-functional protein and thus BRCA deficiency. Because BRCA works with other proteins, BRCA-pathway related deficiency can be seen in the absence of two mutated copies of the BRCA genes. This may explain why responses have been reported for this class of drugs in non-BRCA mutant cancers.”

Dr. Wenham and his colleagues are recruiting more patients for additional studies and an expansion of the existing trial. “We want to understand what types of cancers will respond best to treatment with MK-4827,” he said. “Cohorts are currently open for patients with ovarian cancer, patients without germ-line BRCA mutations, and prostate cancer patients. Cohorts will open soon for patients with T-cell prolymphocytic leukemia, endometrial cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. MK-4827 is also being studied in combination with conventional chemotherapy drugs.”

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[1] EORTC [European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, NCI [National Cancer Institute], AACR [American Association for Cancer Research].

[2] This study was funded by Merck & Co., Inc. MK-4827 is owned by Merck & Co., Inc.

New Assay Test Predicts That 50% of Ovarian Cancers Will Respond To In Vitro PARP Inhibition

U.K. researchers develop a new test that could be used to select ovarian cancer patients who will benefit from a new class of drugs called “PARP inhibitors.”

U.K. researchers have developed a new test that could be used to select which patients with ovarian cancer will benefit from a new class of drugs called “PARP (poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase) inhibitors,” according to preclinical research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference held in Liverpool on November 8th.  According to the test results, approximately 50 percent of all patients with ovarian cancer may benefit from PARP inhibitors.

Dr. Asima Mukhopadhyay Discusses Her Research Into A More Tailored Treatment For Ovarian Cancer

PARP Inhibition & BRCA Gene Mutations: Exploiting Ovarian Cancer’s Inherent Defects

  • Genetics 101

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the genetic material that contains the instructions used in the development and functioning of our cells. DNA is generally stored in the nucleus of our cells. The primary purpose of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information. Often compared to a recipe or a code, DNA is a set of blueprints that contains the instructions our cells require to construct other cell components, such as proteins and RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules. The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called “genes.”

A gene is essentially a sentence made up of the bases A (adenine), T (thymine), G (guanine), and C (cytosine) that describes how to make a protein. Any change in the sequence of bases — and therefore in the protein instructions — is a mutation. Just like changing a letter in a sentence can change the sentence’s meaning, a mutation can change the instruction contained in the gene. Any changes to those instructions can alter the gene’s meaning and change the protein that is made, or how or when a cell makes that protein.

Gene mutations can (i) result in a protein that cannot carry out its normal function in the cell, (ii) prevent the protein from being made at all, or (iii) cause too much or too little of a normal protein to be made.

  • Targeting DNA Repair Through PARP Inhibition

Targeting DNA repair through PARP inhibition in BRCA gene-mutated cancer cells. "DSB" stands for DNA "Double Stand Break." (Photo Credit: AstraZeneca Oncology)

Normally functioning BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are necessary for DNA repair through a process known as “homologous recombination” (HR).  HR is a form of genetic recombination in which two similar DNA strands exchange genetic material. This process is critical to a cell’s ability to repair its DNA in the event that it becomes damaged, so the cell can continue to function.

A cell’s DNA structure can be damaged by a wide variety of intentional (i.e., select cancer treatments) or unintentional (ultraviolet light, ionizing radiation, man-made chemicals, etc.) factors.  For example, chemotherapy regimens used in the treatment of cancer, including alkylating agents, topoisomerase inhibitors, and platinum drugs, are designed to damage DNA and prevent cancer cells from reproducing.

In approximately 10 percent of inherited ovarian cancers, the BRCA 1 or BRCA2 gene is damaged or mutated.  When the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is mutated, a backup type of DNA repair mechanism called “base-excision repair” usually compensates for the lack of DNA repair by HR.  Base-excision repair represents a DNA “emergency repair kit.” DNA repair enzymes such as PARP, whose activity and expression are upregulated in tumor cells, are believed to dampen the intended effect of chemotherapy and generate drug resistance.

When the PARP1 protein – which is necessary for base-excision repair – is inhibited in ovarian cancer cells possessing a BRCA gene mutation, DNA repair is drastically reduced, and the cancer cell dies through so-called “synthetic lethality.”  In sum, PARP inhibitors enhance the potential of chemotherapy (and radiation therapy) to induce cell death.  Healthy cells are unaffected if PARP is blocked because they either contain one or two working BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes which do an effective DNA repair job through use of HR.

  • PARP Inhibitors: A New Class of Targeted Therapy

PARP inhibitors represent a new, targeted approach to treating certain types of cancers. PARP inhibition has the potential to overwhelm cancer cells with lethal DNA damage by exploiting impaired DNA repair function inherent in some cancers, including breast and ovarian cancers with defects in the BRCA1 gene or BRCA 2 gene, and other DNA repair molecules. Inhibition of PARP leads to the cell’s failure to repair single strand DNA breaks, which, in turn, causes double strand DNA breaks. These effects are particularly detrimental to cancer cells that are deficient in repairing double strand DNA breaks and ultimately lead to cancer cell death.

PARP inhibitors are the first targeted treatment to be developed for women with inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer carrying faults or mutations in a BRCA gene. Early results from clinical trials are showing promise for patients with the rare inherited forms of these cancers.

Study Hypothesis: PARP Inhibitors May Be Effective Against a Large Proportion of Non-Inherited Ovarian Cancers

As noted above, PARP inhibitors selectively target HR–defective cells and have shown good clinical activity in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. The U.K. researchers hypothesized that a high proportion (up to 50%) of sporadic (non-inherited) epithelial ovarian cancers could be deficient in HR due to genetic or epigenetic inactivation of the BRCA1, BRCA2, or other HR-related genes, which occur during a woman’s lifetime. Therefore, PARP inhibitors could prove beneficial to a larger group of ovarian cancer patients, assuming a patient’s HR status can be properly identified.

To test this hypothesis, the U.K. researchers developed a functional assay to test the HR status of primary ovarian cancer cultures derived from patients’ ascitic fluid. The test, referred to as the “RAD51 assay,” scans the cancer cells and identifies which tumor samples contain defective DNA repair ability (i.e., HR-deficient) which can be targeted by the PARP inhibitor. The researchers tested the HR status of each culture, and then subjected each one to in vitro cytotoxicity testing using the potent PARP inhibitor PF-01367338 (formerly known as AG-14699).

Study Results: 90% of HR-Deficient Ovarian Cancer Cultures Respond to PARP Inhibition

Upon testing completion, the U.K. researchers discovered that out of 50 primary cultures evaluated for HR status and cytotoxicity to the PARP inhibitor, approximately 40% of the cultures evidenced normal HR activity, while 60 percent of the cultures evidenced deficient HR activity. Cytotoxicity to PARP inhibitors was observed in approximately 90 percent of the HR deficient cultures, while no cytotoxicity was seen in the cultures that evidenced normal HR activity. Specifically, the PARP inhibitor PF-01367338 was found to selectively block the spread of ovarian tumor cells with low RAD51 expression.

Conclusion

Based upon the findings above, the U.K. researchers concluded that HR-deficient status can be determined in primary ovarian cancer, and that such status correlates with in vitro response to PARP inhibition.  Accordingly, the researchers concluded that potentially 50 to 60 percent of ovarian cancers could benefit from PARP inhibitors, but they note that use of the RAD51 assay as a biomarker requires additional clinical trial testing.  Although the RAD51 assay test that was used by the U.K. researchers to examine tumor samples in the laboratory is not yet suitable for routine clinical practice, the U.K. research team hopes to refine it for use in patients.

Upon presentation of the testing results, Dr. Asima Mukhopadhyay said:

“Our results show that this new test is almost 100 percent effective in identifying which ovarian cancer patients could benefit from these promising new drugs.  We have only been able to carry out this work because of the great team we have here which includes both doctors and scientists.”

The team based at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead and the Newcastle Cancer Centre at the NICR, Newcastle University collaborated with Pfizer to develop the new assay to test tumor samples taken from ovarian cancer patients when they had surgery.

Dr. Mukhopadhyay added:

“Now we hope to hone the test to be used directly with patients and then carry out clinical trials. If the trials are successful we hope it will help doctors treat patients in a personalised and targeted way based on their individual tumour. It is also now hoped that PARP inhibitors will be useful for a broad range of cancers and we hope this test can be extended to other cancer types.”

Dr. Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said:

“It’s exciting to see the development of promising new ‘smart’ drugs such as PARP inhibitors. But equally important is the need to identify exactly which sub-groups of patients will benefit from these new treatments. Tests like this will become invaluable in helping doctors get the most effective treatments quickly to patients, sparing them from unnecessary treatments and side effects.”

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About The Researchers

Dr. Asima Mukhopadhyay is a doctor and clinical research fellow working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead and the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University. Queen Elizabeth Hospital is run by Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust and is the home for gynecological oncology for the North East of England and Cumbria. She received a bursary to attend the conference, which was awarded on the merit of her work.

Key researchers on the study included Dr. Richard Edmondson, who was funded by the NHS, and Professor Nicola Curtin, who was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council. Dr Asima Mukhopadhyay is funded by the NHS.

Dr Richard Edmondson is a consultant gynecological oncologist at the Northern Gynaecological Oncology Centre, Gateshead and a Senior Lecturer at the Newcastle Cancer Centre at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, and is a member of the research team.

Nicola Curtin is Professor of Experimental Cancer Therapeutics at Newcastle University and is the principal investigator of this project.

Current and future work involves working closely with Pfizer. Pfizer developed one of the PARP inhibitors and supported this project.

About The Newcastle Cancer Centre

The Newcastle Cancer Centre at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research is jointly funded by three charities: Cancer Research UK, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund.  Launched in July 2009, the Centre is based at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University.  The Centre brings together some of the world’s leading figures in cancer research and drug development. They play a crucial role in delivering the new generation of cancer treatments for children and adults by identifying new drug targets, developing new drugs and verifying the effectiveness and safety of new treatments. This collaborative approach makes it easier for researchers to work alongside doctors treating patients, allowing promising new treatments to reach patients quickly.

About the NCRI Cancer Conference

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference is the UK’s major forum for showcasing the best British and international cancer research. The Conference offers unique opportunities for networking and sharing knowledge by bringing together world leading experts from all cancer research disciplines. The sixth annual NCRI Cancer Conference was held from November 7-10, 2010 at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool. For more information visit www.ncri.org.uk/ncriconference.

About the NCRI

The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in April 2001. It is a UK-wide partnership between the government, charity and industry which promotes cooperation in cancer research among the 21 member organizations for the benefit of patients, the public and the scientific community. For more information visit www.ncri.org.uk.

NCRI members include: the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI); Association for International Cancer Research; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Campaign; CancerResearch UK; CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA, Department of Health; Economic and Social Research Council; Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research; Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer Support; Marie Curie Cancer Care; Medical Research Council; Northern Ireland Health and Social Care (Research & Development Office); Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation; Scottish Government Health Directorates (Chief Scientist Office);Tenovus; Welsh Assembly Government (Wales Office of Research and Development for Health & Social Care); The Wellcome Trust; and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Researchers Identify “Missing Link” Underlying DNA Repair & Platinum Drug Resistance

Researchers have discovered an enzyme crucial to a type of DNA repair that also causes resistance to a class of cancer drugs most commonly used against ovarian cancer.

Scientists from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Life Sciences Institute of Zhejiang University in China report the discovery of the enzyme and its role in repairing DNA damage called “cross-linking” in the Science Express advance online publication of Science.

Junjie Chen, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

“This pathway that repairs cross-linking damage is a common factor in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer and especially in ovarian cancer. If the pathway is active, it undoes the therapeutic effect of cisplatin and similar therapies,” said co-corresponding author Junjie Chen, Ph.D., professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.

The platinum-based chemotherapies such as cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin work by causing DNA cross-linking in cancer cells, which blocks their ability to divide and leads to cell death. Cross-linking occurs when one of the two strands of DNA in a cell branches out and links to the other strand.

Cisplatin and similar drugs are often initially effective against ovarian cancer, Chen said, but over time the disease becomes resistant and progresses.

Scientists have known that the protein complex known as FANCIFANCD2 responds to DNA damage and repairs cross-linking, but the details of how the complex works have been unknown. “The breakthrough in this research is that we finally found an enzyme involved in the repair process,” Chen said.

The enzyme, which they named FAN1, appears to be a nuclease, which is capable of slicing through strands of DNA.

In a series of experiments, Chen and colleagues demonstrated how the protein complex summons FAN1, connects with the enzyme and moves it to the site of DNA cross-linking. They also showed that FAN1 cleaves branched DNA but leaves the normal, separate double-stranded DNA alone. Mutant versions of FAN1 were unable to slice branched DNA.

Like a lock and key

The researchers also demonstrated that FAN1 cannot get at DNA damage without being taken there by the FANCI-FANCD2 protein complex, which detects and moves to the damaged site. The complex recruits the FAN1 enzyme by acquiring a single ubiquitin molecule. FAN1 connects with the complex by binding to the ubiquitin site.

“It’s like a lock and key system, once they fit, FAN1 is recruited,” Chen said.

Analyzing the activity of this repair pathway could guide treatment for cancer patients, Chen said, with the platinum-based therapies used when the cross-linking repair mechanism is less active.

Scientists had shown previously that DNA repair was much less efficient when FANCI and FANCD2 lack the single ubiquitin. DNA response and damage-repair proteins can be recruited to damage sites by the proteins’ ubiquitin-binding domains. The team first identified a protein that had both a ubiquitin-binding domain and a known nuclease domain. When they treated cells with mitomycin C, which promotes DNA cross-linking, that protein, then known as KIAA1018, gathered at damage sites. This led them to the functional experiments that established its role in DNA repair.

They renamed the protein FAN1, short for Fanconi anemia-associated nuclease 1. The FANCI-FANCD2 complex is ubiquitinated by an Fanconi anemia (FA) core complex containing eight FA proteins. These genes and proteins were discovered during research of FA, a rare disease caused by mutations in 13 fanc genes that is characterized by congenital malformations, bone marrow failure, cancer and hypersensitivity to DNA cross-linking agents.

Chen said the FANCI-FANCD2 pathway also is associated with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 pathways, which are involved in homologous recombination repair. Scientists know that homologous recombination repair is also required for the repair of DNA cross-links, but the exact details remain to be resolved, Chen said. Mutations to BRCA1 and BRCA2 are known to raise a woman’s risk for ovarian and breast cancers and are found in about 5-10 percent of women with either disease.

Co-authors with Chen are co-first author Gargi Ghosal, Ph.D., and Jingsong Yuan, Ph.D., also of Experimental Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson; and co-corresponding author Jun Huang, Ph.D., co-first author Ting Liu, Ph.D., of the Life Sciences Institute of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

This research was funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Startup Fund at Zhejiang University.

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