A new study has identified a catalogue of specific enzymes, known as kinases, that some types of cancer rely on to survive.
Scientists at the ICR used a large-scale genetic screen in 117 tumour samples from 10 different types of cancer to identify kinase enzymes that are essential in distinct forms of cancer. In doing so, they have made the first steps towards understanding why tumour cells rely on certain genes, and how some DNA mutations in cancer might be targeted with drugs known as kinase inhibitors.
Integrating the data from this genetic screen with DNA sequencing data, they found that mutations in cancer-associated genes such as the RB1 gene cause tumour cells to reply upon a distinct set of kinase enzymes. Inhibiting these specific enzymes caused RB1 mutant cells to die, but left cells without these cancer associated mutations unharmed.
The researchers identified thousands of additional kinase-related genetic dependencies that operate in tumour cells. This data could give vital clues to identify targets for new cancer fighting drugs.
The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, was funded by Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Now, with additional support from The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and the ICR.
Dr Chris Lord, leader of the Gene Function team at the ICR, said: “Understanding the list of genes that are essential in cancer cells but less required by normal cells is one of the fundamental aims of cancer research. We know that tumour cells become addicted to the activity of a distinct set of genes compared with normal cells and if we could systematically identify these genes we can start to design refined ways of treating the disease.
"Protein kinases are very druggable, suggesting we could develop drugs for many of the cancer specific genes we identified.
“We hope this work will make the drug discovery process much simpler, but also help to understand some of the fundamental rules about why cancer cells rely on some genes, whilst normal cells do not. By making this data freely available to the scientific community, we also hope that this information could be used by many other research groups interested in identifying new targets to defeat cancer.”