Preclinical Testing Suggests That Apoptosis Protein Inhibitor AT-406 Is Effective Against Ovarian Cancer; Initial Phase I Solid Tumor Clinical Trial Ongoing

In preclinical testing, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers demonstrated the anti-ovarian cancer effectiveness of AT-406, an inhibitor of apoptosis proteins, as a single agent and in the combination with carboplatin.  As of this writing, Ascenta Therapeutics is conducting an open and ongoing phase I clinical study in patients with advanced solid tumors and lymphomas.

Apoptosis Proteins: A Promising Target For Cancer Therapeutics?

Apoptosis increasing from normal cells (top) to apoptotic ones (bottom). (Photo: Wikipedia)

Human cells are programmed to survive, die or proliferate through a complex system of regulatory controls.  Apoptosis — also know as “programmed cell death” — is a precisely regulated, complex process through which normal cells in the body die after a given life span, ensuring that defective, damaged, or redundant cells are eliminated.

The human body use apoptosis, or programmed cell death, to eliminate abnormal or unwanted cells. As a result of accumulated genomic alterations, it seems that cancer cells often fail to execute an apoptotic program, which allows them to live indefinitely and grow uncontrollably. The breakdown of the cellular apoptosis regulatory machinery is sometimes a dominant characteristic of cancer. Many current cancer therapies, including chemotherapeutic agents, radiation, and immunotherapy, work by inducing apoptosis in cancer cells. However, because the normal apoptotic biological pathways are sometimes defective, many cancer cells are inherently resistant or develop resistance to various therapies.  An emerging direction for drug development involves the direct targeting of apoptotic proteins to induce cell death and/or reduce treatment resistance.

AT-406 — A New Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins — is Effective in Preclinical Testing Against Ovarian Cancer.

(Photo: University of Michigan Heath System)

AT-406 is a novel and orally-active small molecule drug designed to promote programmed cell death (apoptosis) in tumor cells by blocking the activity of inhibitors of apoptosis proteins (IAPs), including XIAP, c-IAP1, c-IAP2, and ML-IAP, to create conditions in which apoptosis can proceed.  Based on this designed activity, AT-406 is best described as a multi-IAP inhibitor. IAPs are key components of the complex cascade of protein signaling that activates enzymes (called “caspases“) to initiate the breakdown of the cancer cell. AT-406 is thought to mimic the activity of Smac (second mitochondria-derived activator of caspases) by binding to XIAP and preventing it from inhibiting caspase activation. Upon binding to cIAP1 and cIAP2, AT-406 induces rapid degradation of these proteins and promotes apoptosis through activation of the death-receptor complex and caspase 8.

Ascenta Therapeutics (Ascenta), the developer of AT-406, reported that the drug has already demonstrated single-agent antitumor activity in multiple preclinical xenograft models of human cancer, including breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Ascenta also noted that AT-406 has also been shown to work synergistically with conventional chemotherapeutic and targeted agents (such as TRAIL and tyrosine kinase inhibitors) in preclinical tumor models.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers evaluated AT-406 in ovarian cancer cells as a single agent, and in the combination with carboplatin, for therapeutic effectiveness and mechanism of action. The researchers reported that AT-406 had significant single agent activity in 60% of the human ovarian cancer cell lines examined in vitro, and inhibited ovarian cancer progression in vivo. Notably, three of the five carboplatin-resistant cell lines tested sensitive to AT-406, thereby highlighting the therapeutic potential of AT-406 for patients with inherent or acquired platinum drug resistance.

Additionally, the researchers also determined that AT-406 enhanced carboplatin-induced ovarian cancer cell death and increased the survival of the experimental in vivo test mice. This result suggests a synergy created by this two drug  combination, whereby AT-406 sensitizes the response of these cancer cells to carboplatin. From a mechanism of action perspective, the researchers demonstrated that AT-406 induced apoptosis correlated with the drug’s ability to down-regulate XIAP,  whereby AT-406 induces cIAP1 degradation in both AT-406 sensitive and resistant cell lines. Collectively, these results demonstrate, for the first time, the anti-ovarian cancer efficacy of AT-406 as a single agent and in the combination with carboplatin. The researchers believe that AT-406 may represent a novel therapy for ovarian cancer patients, especially for patients exhibiting resistance to the platinum-based therapies.

Initial Phase I Clinical Study of AT-406 in Patients With Advanced Solid Tumors & Lymphomas

Ascenta is currently conducting clinical trials of AT-406 within the U.S. in patients with a variety of solid tumors and lymphomas. As of this writing, Ascenta is conducting a phase I, dose-escalation, open-label, multi-center study (University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic, and Duke University Medical Center) in patients with advanced solid tumors and lymphomas to evaluate the safety, tolerability and pharmacology of AT-406 when administered orally. The ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier Number for this trial is NCT01078649.

It is important to note that phase I trials usually enroll a small numbers of patients who have advanced cancer that cannot be treated effectively with standard treatments, or for which no standard treatment exists. Although evaluating the effectiveness of a drug is the primary goal of a phase II (not phase I) clinical study, medical investigators do look for evidence that the study treatment might be useful in a phase I clinical study.

Sources:

  • Brunckhorst MK, et al. AT-406, an orally active antagonist of multiple inhibitor of apoptosis proteins, inhibits progression of human ovarian cancer. Cancer Biol Ther. 2012 Jul 1;13(9). [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 22669575.
  • AT-406 Clinical Trial Protocol Summary: A Phase I, Open Label, Multi-Center, Dose Escalation Study of the Safety, Tolerability, Pharmacodynamic and Pharmacokinetic Properties of Orally Administered AT-406 in Patients With Advanced Solid Tumors and Lymphomas; ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01078649.

FDA Approves Clinical Protocol for Additional Phase 1 Study of TKM-PLK1 in Primary Liver Cancer or Liver Metastases

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the clinical protocol for an additional Phase 1 study of TKM-PLK1 in patients with either primary liver cancer or liver metastases associated with select cancers including ovarian.

RNA Interference

Nucleic acids are molecules that carry genetic information and include DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). Together these molecules form the building blocks of life. DNA contains the genetic code or “blueprint” used in the development and functioning of all living organisms, while one type of RNA (i.e., “messenger RNA” or mRNA) helps to translate that genetic code into proteins by acting as a messenger between the DNA instructions located in the cell nucleus and the protein synthesis which takes place in the cell cytoplasm (i.e., outside the cell nucleus, but inside the outer cell membrane). Accordingly, DNA is first copied or transcribed into mRNA, which, in turn, gets translated or synthesized into protein.

The molecular origin of many diseases results from either the absence or over-production of specific proteins. “RNA interference” (RNAi) is a mechanism through which gene expression is inhibited at the translation stage, thereby disrupting the protein production. RNAi is considered one of the most important discoveries in the field of molecular biology. Andrew Fire, Ph.D., and Craig C. Mello, Ph.D. shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work that led to the discovery of the RNAi mechanism.  Because many diseases – cancer, metabolic, infectious and others – are caused by the inappropriate activity of specific genes, the ability to silence genes selectively through RNAi offers the potential to revolutionize the way we treat disease and illness by creating a new class of drugs aimed at eliminating specific gene-products or proteins from the cell. RNAi has been convincingly demonstrated in preclinical models of oncology, influenza, hepatitis, high cholesterol, diabetes, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.

Small Interfering RNA 

While the mechanism itself is termed “RNAi,” the therapeutic agents that exert the effect are known as “small interfering RNAs” or siRNAs. Sequencing of the human genome has provided the information needed to design siRNA therapeutics directed against a wide range of disease-causing proteins. Based on the mRNA sequence for the target protein, a siRNA therapeutic can be designed relatively quickly compared to the time needed to synthesize and screen conventional small molecule drugs. Moreover, siRNA-based therapeutics are able to bind to a target protein mRNA with great specificity. When siRNA are introduced into the cell cytoplasm they are rapidly incorporated into an “RNA-induced silencing complex” (RISC) and guided to the target protein mRNA, which is then cut and destroyed, preventing the subsequent production of the target protein. The RISC can remain stable inside the cell for weeks, destroying many more copies of the target mRNA and maintaining target protein suppression for long periods of time.

To our knowledge, there are no siRNAs approved yet for medical use outside of a clinical trial, however, a number of R&D initiatives and clinical trials are currently underway, with one of the main areas of research focused on delivery. Because siRNAs are large, unstable molecules, they are unable to access target cells. Delivery technology is required to stabilize these drugs in the human blood stream, allow efficient delivery to the target cells, and facilitate uptake and release into the cell cytoplasm. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation, a leading developer of RNAi therapeutics has focused its research on identifying lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) that can overcome the challenges of delivering siRNAs.

TKM-PLK1 

TKM-PLK1 is being developed as a novel anti-tumor drug in the treatment of cancer. LNPs are particularly well suited for the delivery of siRNA to treat cancer because the lipid nanoparticles preferentially accumulate within tissues and organs having leaky blood vessels, such as cancerous tumors. Once at the target site, LNPs are taken up by tumor cells and the siRNA payload is delivered inside the cell where it reduces expression of the target protein. Through careful selection of the appropriate molecular targets, LNPs are designed to have potent anti-tumor activity yet be well tolerated by healthy tissue adjacent to the tumor.

Tekmira has taken advantage of this passive targeting effect to develop an siRNA directed against PLK1 (polo-like kinase 1), a protein involved in tumor cell proliferation. Inhibition of PLK1 prevents the tumor cell from completing cell division, resulting in cell cycle arrest and cell death.

Because the standard of care for cancer treatment often involves the use of drug combination therapies, Tekmira has selected gene targets for its oncology applications that synergize with conventional drugs that are currently in use. TKM-PLK1 has the potential to provide both direct tumor cell killing and sensitization of tumor cells to the effects of chemotherapy drugs.

Phase 1 Study of TKM-PLK1 in Primary Liver Cancer or Liver Metastases

Tekmira, along with its collaborators at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), announced that they have received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to proceed with a new Phase 1 clinical trial for Tekmira’s lead oncology product, TKM-PLK1. This trial, run in parallel with the ongoing Phase 1 trial of TKM-PLK1 (for adult patients with solid tumors or lymphomas that are refractory to standard therapy), provides Tekmira with an early opportunity to validate the mechanism of drug action.

“Patients in this new study, who will have either primary liver cancer or liver metastases, will receive TKM-PLK1 delivered directly into the liver via Hepatic Artery Infusion (HAI). The trial design will allow us to measure tumor delivery, polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) messenger RNA knockdown, and RNA interference (RNAi) activity in tumor biopsies from all of the patients treated,” said Dr. Mark J. Murray, Tekmira’s President and CEO.

“This NCI clinical trial will run in parallel with our multi-center TKM-PLK1 solid tumor Phase 1 trial, currently underway at three centers in the United States. Working together on this clinical trial with our collaborators at the NCI will allow us to develop an even more robust data package to inform subsequent TKM-PLK1 development. We expect to have interim TKM-PLK1 clinical data before the end of 2011,” added Dr. Murray.

The NCI trial is a Phase 1 multiple-dose, dose escalation study testing TKM-PLK1 in patients with unresectable colorectal, pancreatic, gastric, breast, ovarian and esophageal cancers with liver metastases, or primary liver cancers. These patients represent a significant unmet medical need as they are not well served by currently approved treatments.

The primary objectives of the trial include evaluation of the feasibility of administering TKM-PLK1 via HAI, and characterization of the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of TKM-PLK1. Pharmacodynamic measurements will examine the effect of the drug on the patient’s tumors, specifically aiming to confirm PLK1 knockdown and RNAi activity. Typically reserved for later stage trials, pharmacodynamic measurements are facilitated in this Phase 1 trial in part through the unique capabilities of the NCI Surgery Branch. Secondary objectives of the trial include establishing maximum tolerated dose and to evaluate response rate.

About the National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is one of 27 institutes and centers under the oversight of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is the primary cancer medical research agency in the U.S. The TKM-PLK1 trial will involve investigators at the NCI’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR) on the main NIH campus located in Bethesda, Maryland. The CCR is home to more than 250 scientists and clinicians working in intramural research at the NCI. CCR’s investigators include some of the worlds most experienced basic, clinical, and translational scientists who work together to advance our knowledge of cancer and develop new therapies.

About TKM-PLK1

TKM-PLK1 targets polo-like kinase 1, or PLK1, a cell cycle protein involved in tumor cell proliferation and a validated oncology target. Cancer patients whose tumors express high levels of PLK1 have a relatively poor prognosis. Inhibition of PLK1 prevents tumor cells from completing cell division, resulting in cell cycle arrest and cancer cell death.

About RNAi and Tekmira’s LNP Technology

RNAi therapeutics have the potential to treat a broad number of human diseases by “silencing” disease causing genes. The discoverers of RNAi, a gene silencing mechanism used by all cells, were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. RNAi therapeutics, such as “siRNAs,” require delivery technology to be effective systemically. LNP technology is one of the most widely used siRNA delivery approaches for systemic administration. Tekmira’s LNP technology (formerly referred to as “stable nucleic acid-lipid particles” or SNALP) encapsulates siRNAs with high efficiency in uniform lipid nanoparticles which are effective in delivering RNAi therapeutics to disease sites in numerous preclinical models. Tekmira’s LNP formulations are manufactured by a proprietary method which is robust, scalable and highly reproducible and LNP-based products have been reviewed by multiple FDA divisions for use in clinical trials. LNP formulations comprise several lipid components that can be adjusted to suit the specific application.

About Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation is a biopharmaceutical company focused on advancing novel RNAi therapeutics and providing its leading lipid nanoparticle delivery technology to pharmaceutical partners. Tekmira has been working in the field of nucleic acid delivery for over a decade and has broad intellectual property covering LNPs. Further information about Tekmira can be found at www.tekmirapharm.com. Tekmira is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Source

Clinical Trial Information

  • A Phase 1 Dose Escalation Study to Determine the Safety, Pharmacokinetics, and Pharmacodynamics of Intravenous TKM-080301 [a/k/a TKM-PLK1 or PLK1 SNALP] in Patients With Advanced Solid Tumors [or Lymphomas], ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01262235. [Note: This clinical trial summary relates to the ongoing Phase 1 TKM-PLK1  solid tumor clinical trial. We will post the second Phase 1 TKM-PLK1 clinical trial summary with respect to primary liver cancer and liver metastases once it becomes publicly available]
Additional Information
  • Wang J, et al. Delivery of siRNA therapeutics: barriers and carriers. AAPS J. 2010 Dec;12(4):492-503. Epub 2010 Jun 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 20544328; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2977003.

2011 ASCO: Matching Targeted Therapies To Specific Tumor Gene Mutations Key to Personalized Cancer Treatment

Customizing targeted therapies to each tumor’s molecular characteristics, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach by tumor type, may be more effective for some types of cancer, according to research presented today at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In patients with end-stage disease, matched patients achieved a 27% response rate, versus 5% in those unmatched.

Customizing targeted therapies to each tumor’s molecular characteristics, instead of a “one-size-fits-all approach” by tumor type, may be more effective for some types of cancer, according to research conducted by The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Apostolia M. Tsimberidou, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics, Division of Cancer Medicine, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas

M.D. Anderson’s phase I clinical study findings were presented today on the opening press program of the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Apostolia-Maria Tsimberidou, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the M.D. Anderson Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics, and the principal investigator of the study, presented the data.

Marking the largest scale on which this approach has been examined to date, the study analyzed the results of matching targeted therapies with specific gene mutations in patients. The data indicated that this strategy was associated with higher rates of response, survival and failure-free survival than observed in non-matched patients.

Pairing Patient and Treatment

“This preliminary study strongly suggests that molecular analysis is needed to use the right drug for the right patient. Up to this point, we have treated tumor types, but this study shows we cannot treat all patients with a tumor type the same way. We need to take into consideration a number of factors, and this study suggests that a personalized approach is needed to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer,” said Tsimberidou.

The identification of pathways involved in carcinogenesis, metastasis and drug resistance; new technologies enabling tumor molecular analysis; and the discovery of targeted therapies have stimulated research focusing on the use of targeted agents as part of a personalized medicine approach, she said.

“Over the past decades, a personalized medicine approach using Gleevec has changed the way we treat chronic myeloid leukemia, as well as survival rates,” said Razelle Kurzrock, M.D., professor and chair of the M.D. Anderson Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics. “We wanted to apply a similar approach to solid tumors.”

“Ultimately, to best match treatments to patients and offer the most therapeutic benefit, assessing a patient’s molecular markers has to become the standard at diagnosis. … 

This study affirms what we in the cancer community have been talking about for a decade – matching drugs to patients. The time is now. The drugs are here. The technology is here, and with our program at M.D. Anderson we can bring the two together in hopes to offer the most personalized care for our patients. …”

–Razelle Kurzrock, M.D., Professor & Chair, Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Research Methods and Results

In the initial analysis, Tsimberidou analyzed 1,144 patients with metastatic or inoperable cancer who underwent testing for molecular aberrations at M.D. Anderson. Their median age was 58, and the median number of prior treatments was four. Of these patients, 460 had one or more gene aberrations, including:

  • 10 percent with a PIK3CA mutation;
  • 18 percent with a KRAS mutation;
  • 8 percent with a NRAS mutation;
  • 17 percent with a BRAF mutation;
  • 3 percent with an EGFR mutation;
  • 2 percent with a CKIT mutation;
  • 21 percent with a PTEN loss; and
  • 37 percent with a p53 mutation

Patients with gene aberrations were treated on clinical trials with matched targeted agents, when available. Regimens included one or more therapies targeting PIK3CA, mTOR, BRAF, MEK, multikinases, KIT or EGFR. Outcomes of patients with gene aberrations treated with matched therapy were compared with those patients with gene aberrations who were not treated with matched therapy because of issues such as eligibility, study availability; insurance coverage and/or logistical problems with the study calendar.

For the 175 patients with one aberration, the response rate was 27 percent with matched targeted therapy. The response rate was 5 percent in 116 patients when treated with non-matched therapy.

Patients who received matched targeted therapy had median survival of 13.4 months, while median survival for patients treated with unmatched targeted therapy was nine months. Median failure-free survival in patients who received matched targeted therapy was 5.2 months, compared to 2.2 months for patients who received unmatched targeted therapy.

Further Research Needed

These preliminary results merit further investigation and confirmatory, prospective studies are needed, especially because the study was not a randomized study and therefore biases could influence the results.

“M.D. Anderson’s goal is to better understand the biology involved in each patient’s carcinogenesis by testing each tumor for genetic abnormalities driving tumor growth to guide treatment selection. This strategy will lead to the optimization of personalized therapy,” Tsimberidou said.

Another goal is to match targeted therapies to patients earlier in treatment.

“When Gleevec was first introduced, it was tested in patients in blast crisis and the response rate was about 15 percent. In contrast, when tested in the front line setting, and with the introduction of similar but increasingly potent second- and third-generation drugs, patients’ response rate was close to 100 percent, and now their expected survival is 25 years and counting,” said Kurzrock. “Ultimately, to best match treatments to patients and offer the most therapeutic benefit, assessing a patient’s molecular markers has to become the standard at diagnosis.”

About the Phase I Program – The Time is Now

The M.D. Anderson’s Phase I program is the largest of its kind and accounts for the majority – but not all – of the institution’s earliest clinical studies. In 2010, of the 11,000 patients who participated in M.D. Anderson clinical trials, more than 1,150 were enrolled in one of the 120 Phase I trials in the program.

Currently, tumors are tested for up to 12 molecular aberrations, but at the rate technology is rapidly advancing, Kurzrock expects that number to climb to more than 100 in the near future.

Patients treated in the Phase I Program are typically very ill and all other approved therapies have failed them. Yet they are “fighters” who are willing to try anything, including studies not specific to their diagnosis to test the effectiveness of a new drug, drug combination or delivery method, said Kurzrock.

“This study affirms what we in the cancer community have been talking about for a decade – matching drugs to patients,” said Kurzrock. “The time is now. The drugs are here. The technology is here, and with our program at M.D. Anderson we can bring the two together in hopes to offer the most personalized care for our patients.”

In addition to Tsimberidou and Kurzrock, other authors on the all-M.D. Anderson study included N. G. Iskander, David S. Hong, M.D., Jennifer J. Wheler, M.D., Siqing Fu, M.D., Ph.D., Sarina A. Piha-Paul, M.D., Aung Naing, M.D., Gerald Falchook, Filip Janku, M.D., Ph.D., all assistant professors of the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics; Raja Luthra, Ph.D., professor, Department of Hematopathology, Research and Sijin Wen, Ph.D., Division of Quantitative Sciences.

Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ Commentary — Use of Molecular Profiling and Chemosensitivity Testing To Determine Individualized Ovarian Cancer Treatment

It is wonderful that various medical research institutions, including M.D. Anderson, are beginning to match targeted therapies to a patient’s specific molecular tumor characteristics. This approach is generally referred to as “molecular profiling,” and it represents one promising method of matching an individual cancer patient to an effective therapy. As noted in the related Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ postings set forth below, there are several medical and scientific institutions which are pursuing development of molecular profiling for clinical study use. In the most recent related posting listed below, we discuss the molecular profile testing that is commercially available through The Clearity Foundation and Caris Life Sciences.

In the future, it may be helpful to use a form of chemosensitivity testing (e.g., the type of testing provided by Precision Therapeutics, Rational Therapeutics, and the Weisenthal Cancer Group), which is based upon the measurement of actual cancer cell death, as a second method to match a cancer patient to a potential drug or drug combination within the context of a clinical study. In fact, we would like to see a future prospective, randomized ovarian cancer clinical trial in which enrolled women are provided with treatment after assignment to one of three clinical trial arms:  (i) treatment based upon the standard of care (e.g., paclitaxel and carboplatin), (ii) treatment based upon molecular profiling, or (iii) treatment based upon chemosensitivity testing.  This type of study may uncover additional ovarian cancer treatment insights (both molecular and functional) with respect to the most lethal gynecologic cancer, while ultimately helping women with forms of the disease that may not possess a known molecular characteristic that is potentially “targetable” by an existing clinical trial drug or compound.

This combination of “bottom-up” scientific research (i.e., molecular profiling) performed side-by-side with “top-down” research (i.e., chemosensitivity testing) may represent an effective and efficient approach — albeit provocative — for evaluation of optimal personalized ovarian cancer treatment.

It is important to note that Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ and its founder Paul Cacciatore do not receive financial renumeration or benefit of any kind from the companies referred to in the paragraphs above.

About the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. MD Anderson is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. For seven of the past nine years, including 2010, M.D. Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in “America’s Best Hospitals,” a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report.

Primary Sources:

Secondary Sources:
Related Libby’s H*O*P*E* Postings:

PI3K Pathway: A Potential Ovarian Cancer Therapeutic Target?

…[T]here are several PI3K signaling pathway targeting drugs in clinical development for use against ovarian cancer and solid tumors, including GDC-0941, BEZ235, SF1126, XL-147, XL-765, BGT226, and PX-866.  The results of two recent medical studies suggest that the use of PI3K-targeted therapies may offer an effective therapeutic approach for patients with advanced-stage and recurrent ovarian cancer, including a generally chemotherapy-resistant histological subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer known as “ovarian clear cell cancer” (OCCC).  The targeting of the PI3K pathway in endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancer is also being investigated by a Stand Up To Cancer “Dream Team.” …

PI3K Cellular Signaling Pathway — An Overview

PI3K/AKT cellular signaling pathway (Photo: Cell Signaling Technology(R))

In 2004 and 2005, multiple researchers identified mutations in the PIK3CA  gene with respect to multiple cancers.[1]  The PIK3CA gene encodes the PI3K catalytic subunit p110α. PI3K (phosphoinositide 3- kinase) proteins have been identified in crucial signaling pathways of ovarian cancer cells. PI3Ks are also part of the PI3K-AKT-mTOR signaling pathway which promotes cellular glucose metabolism, proliferation, growth, survival, and invasion and metastasis in many cancers. PIK3CA gene mutations can increase PI3K signaling, thereby activating the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway within cancer cells.

As of this writing, there are several PI3K signaling pathway targeting drugs in clinical development for use against ovarian cancer and solid tumors, including GDC-0941, BEZ235, SF1126, XL-147, XL-765, BGT226, and PX-866. [2]  The results of two recent medical studies suggest that the use of PI3K-targeted therapies may offer an effective therapeutic approach for patients with advanced-stage and recurrent ovarian cancer, including a generally chemotherapy-resistant histological subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer known as “ovarian clear cell cancer” (OCCC).  The targeting of the PI3K pathway in endometrial, ovarian, and breast cancer is also being investigated by a Stand Up To CancerDream Team.”

Frequent Mutation of PIK3CA Gene In Recurrent & Advanced Clear Cell Ovarian Cancer

OCCC is one of the five major subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer. OCCC accounts for only 4% to 12% of epithelial ovarian cancer in Western countries and, for unknown reasons, it comprises more than 20% of such cancers in Japan [3,4,5]. OCCC possesses unique clinical features such as a high incidence of stage I disease, a large pelvic mass, an increased incidence of venous thromboembolic complications, and hypercalcemia. It is frequently associated with endometriosis.  Compared to serous ovarian cancer, OCCC is relatively resistant to conventional platinum and taxane-based chemotherapy. For these reasons, new effective therapies are desperately needed for OCCC.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analyzed 97 OCCC tumors for genetic sequence mutations in KRAS (v-Ki-ras2 Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog), BRAF (v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1), PIK3CA (phosphoinositide-3-kinase, catalytic, alpha polypeptide), TP53 (tumor protein p53), PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog), and CTNNB1 (Catenin, Beta-1) as these mutations frequently occur in other major types of ovarian cancers.[6] The samples tested included the following:

  • 18 OCCCs for which affinity-purified tumor cells from fresh specimens were available;
  • 10 OCCC tumor cell lines.

Upon test completion, the researchers discovered that sequence mutations of PIK3CA, TP53, KRAS, PTEN, CTNNB1, and BRAF occurred in 33%, 15%, 7%, 5%, 3%, and 1% of OCCC cases, respectively.

Clear cell carcinoma of the ovary (Photo: Geneva Foundation For Medical Education & Research)

The sequence analysis of the 18 affinity purified OCCC tumors and the 10 OCCC cell lines showed a PIK3CA mutation frequency of 46%. Based upon these findings the researchers concluded that the use of PIK3CA-targeting drugs may offer a more effective therapeutic approach compared with current chemotherapeutic agents for patients with advanced-stage and recurrent OCCC. As noted above, there are several PI3K-targeting drugs in clinical development for use against ovarian cancer and solid tumors.[2]

Notably, one of the researchers involved with this OCCC study is Dennis J. Slamon, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Slamon serves as the Director of Clinical/Translational Research, and as Director of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Slamon is also a professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and Executive Vice Chair of Research for UCLA’s Department of Medicine. Dr. Slamon is a co-discoverer of the breast cancer drug Herceptin®. Herceptin is a monoclonal antibody targeted therapy used against HER-2 breast cancer, an aggressive breast cancer subtype that affects 20% to 30% of women with the disease. Herceptin’s development was based, in part, upon the unique genetic profile of HER-2 breast cancer as compared to other forms of breast cancer. Herceptin® revolutionized the treatment of HER-2 postive breast cancer and is recognized worldwide as the standard of care for that subtype of breast cancer.  The approach taken by Johns Hopkins and UCLA researchers in this study — the identification of  a subtype within a specific form of cancer that may be susceptible to a targeted therapy —  bears a striking similarity to the overarching approach taken in the development of Herceptin®.

Ovarian Cancer & Other Solid Tumors With PIK3CA Gene Mutations Respond To PI3K-AKT-mTOR Pathway Inhibitors In Phase I Clinical Testing.

Testing patients with cancer for PIK3CA gene mutations is feasible and may allow targeted treatment of the PI3K-AKT-mTOR cellular signaling pathway, according to the results of a University of  Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study presented on November 17, 2009 at the 2009 AACR (American Association for Cancer Research)-NCI (National Cancer Institute)-EORTC (European Organization For Research & Treatment of Cancer) International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics.[7]

mTOR cellular signaling pathway (Photo: Cell Signaling Technology(R))

Filip Janku, M.D., Ph.D, a clinical research fellow with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s department of investigational cancer therapeutics, and colleagues conducted a mutational analysis of exon 9 and exon 20 of the PI3KCA gene using DNA from the tumors of patients referred to targeted therapy clinical trials. Patients with PIK3CA mutations were preferably treated whenever possible with regimens utilizing PI3K-AKT-mTOR signaling pathway inhibitors.

As part of this study 117 tumor samples were analyzed. PIK3CA mutations were detected in 14 (12%) patients.  In tumor types with more than 5 patients tested, PIK3CA mutations were identified in endometrial cancer (43%, 3 out of 7 patients), ovarian cancer (22%, 5 out of 23 patients), squamous head and neck cancer (14%, 1 out of 7 patients), breast cancer (18%, 2 out of 11 patients), and colon cancer (15%, 2 out of 13 patients). No mutations were identified in patients with melanoma or cervical cancer.

Of the 14 patients found to possess PIK3CA mutations, 10 were treated based upon a clinical trial protocol that included a drug targeting the PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway.  A partial response to treatment was experienced by 4 (40%) patients. Although the total number of patients is small, there were 2 (67%) patient responses in 3 endometrial cancer cases, 1 (25%) patient response in 4 ovarian cancer cases, 1 (100%) patient response in 1 breast cancer, and no patient response in 1 colorectal cancer case.  Although the total number of study patients is small, the researchers conclude that the response rate appears high (40%) in tumors with PIK3CA mutations treated with PI3K-AKT-mTOR pathway inhibitors.

“The implications of this study are twofold,” said Dr. Janku.  “We demonstrated that PIK3CA testing is feasible and may contribute to the decision-making process when offering a patient a clinical trial. Although this study suffers from low numbers, the response rate observed in patients treated with inhibitors of PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway based on their mutational status was well above what we usually see in phase-1 clinical trials.”  “These results are intriguing but at this point should be interpreted with caution,” said Janku. “The promising response rate needs to be confirmed in larger groups of patients. We expect to learn more as this project continues to offer PIK3CA screening to patients considering a phase-1 clinical trial.”

Stand Up 2 Cancer Dream Team: Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women’s Cancers

The potential importance of the PI3K pathway in the treatment of ovarian cancer is emphasized by the two medical studies above.  This issue is also receiving considerable attention from one of the Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) “Dream Teams,” which is going to evalute  the potential for targeting the PI3K pathway in women’s cancer.  SU2C assigned $15 million of cancer research funding to this critical issue.  The scientists involved in this SU2C Dream Team are the pioneers who discovered the PI3K pathway and validated its role in human cancers, and they will focus on breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, all of which possess the PI3K mutation.

The leader and co-leaders of the PI3K pathway SU2C team are set forth below.

Leader:

Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., Director, Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Co-Leaders:

Charles L. Sawyers, M.D., Director, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Gordon B. Mills, M.D., Ph.D., Chair, Department of Systems Biology, University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

The specific SU2C Dream Team research goal with respect to targeting the PI3K pathway in women’s cancers is stated as follows:

The PI3K pathway is mutated in more cancer patients than any other, and these mutations are the most frequent events in women’s cancers, making it an attractive molecular target for agents that inhibit these genetic aberrations. If successful, this project will allow clinicians to use biomarkers and imaging techniques to predict which patients will benefit from PI3K pathway inhibitors and lead to the development of therapeutic combinations that will hit multiple targets in the complex pathways that contribute to cancer cell growth.  This work will help assure that these therapies are given to patients who will benefit from them, and it will also increase the overall pace of clinical trials targeting PI3K inhibitors.

Based upon the two studies discussed, and the creation and funding of the SU2C Dream Team for the purpose of targeting the PI3K pathway in women’s cancer, the future holds great promise in the battle against ovarian cancer (including OCCC).  It is our hope that more clinical study investigators will offer PI3K pathway mutation screening to all ovarian cancer patient volunteers.  Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ will continue to monitor the clinical development of PI3K pathway inhibitors, and make our readers aware of all future developments.

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References:

1/Yuan TL, Cantley LC. PI3K pathway alterations in cancer: variations on a theme. Oncogene. 2008 Sep 18;27(41):5497-510. PubMed PMID: 18794884
Samuels Y, Ericson K. Oncogenic PI3K and its role in cancer. Curr Opin Oncol. 2006 Jan;18(1):77-82. PubMed PMID: 16357568.
Levine DA, Bogomolniy F, Yee CJ, et. al. Frequent mutation of the PIK3CA gene in ovarian and breast cancers. Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Apr 15;11(8):2875-8. PubMed PMID: 15837735.
Samuels Y, Wang Z, Bardelli A, et. al. High frequency of mutations of the PIK3CA gene in human cancers. Science. 2004 Apr 23;304(5670):554. Epub 2004 Mar 11. PubMed PMID: 15016963.

2/For open ovarian cancer clinical trials using a PI3K-targeted therapy; CLICK HERE; For open solid tumor clinical trials using a PI3K-targeted therapy, CLICK HERE.

3/ Itamochi H, Kigawa J & Terakawa N.  Mechanisms of chemoresistance and poor prognosis in ovarian clear cell carcinoma. Can Sci 2008 Apr;99(4):653-658. [PDF Document]

4/Schwartz DR, Kardia SL, Shedden KA, et. alGene Expression in Ovarian Cancer Reflects Both Morphology and Biological Behavior, Distinguishing Clear Cell from Other Poor-Prognosis Ovarian CarcinomasCan Res 2002 Aug; 62, 4722-4729.

5/Sugiyama T & Fujiwara K.  Clear Cell Tumors of the Ovary – Rare Subtype of Ovarian Cancer, Gynecologic Cancer, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Educational Book, 2007 ASCO Annual Meeting, June 2, 2007 (Microsoft Powerpoint presentation).

6/Kuo KT, Mao TL, Jones S, et. al. Frequent Activating Mutations of PIK3CA in Ovarian Clear Cell Carcinoma. Am J Pathol. 2009 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print]

7/Janku F, Garrido-Laguna I, Hong D.S.  PIK3CA mutations in patients with advanced cancers treated in phase I clinical trials, Abstract #B134, Molecular Classification of Tumors, Poster Session B, 2009 AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics Conference. [PDF Document].