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New Drug Target Identified for High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer

February 18, 2020

In their study, James Duncan and his colleagues used a unique proteomic technology that allowed them to map the entire landscape of the kinome, the sum of all protein kinases in the cell. In their study, James Duncan and his colleagues used a unique proteomic technology that allowed them to map the entire landscape of the kinome, the sum of all protein kinases in the cell.

PHILADELPHIA (February 18, 2020) – In a study published today, researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have identified a new kinase target for the treatment of high-grade serous ovarian cancer that has the potential to lead to the development of new drugs.

James S. Duncan, PhD, an assistant professor in the Cancer Biology Program at Fox Chase, and colleagues, discovered that the MRCKA kinase plays an integral role in ovarian cancer cell migration, proliferation, and survival.

“There are very few effective targeted therapies for high-grade serous ovarian cancer,” Duncan said. “PARP inhibitors have been shown to be effective in some ovarian cancers, but as far as targeting kinases, there haven’t been any home runs.”

Kinases help control many important functions of the cell such as cell signaling, metabolism, division, and survival. Kinase inhibitors have been used successfully in other types of cancer to block cell growth or the growth of new blood vessels needed for tumor growth. Some of the most well-known kinase inhibitors, for example, are those designed to block the Bcr-Abl fusion gene in leukemia.

In their study, Duncan and colleagues used a unique proteomic technology that allowed them to map the entire landscape of the kinome, the sum of all protein kinases in the cell. “First, we looked at tumors from patients and patient-derived xenograft models to see if any of these unknown kinases were highly expressed,” Duncan said.

This process identified several established ovarian cancer driver kinases, as well as several more that have not been previously explored. “Then we did loss-of-function studies to inhibit these kinases in order to ask if their inhibition had any impact on ovarian cancer cell growth and survival,” Duncan added.

These studies identified MRCKA as a possible therapeutic target. Next, the researchers inhibited MRCKA in ovarian cancer cell lines and found that this kinase regulated many key processes in ovarian cancer cells.

“We identified a kinase that we think is essential for many ovarian cancer cell survival processes,” Duncan said. “A small molecule has been developed and we demonstrated that inhibition of MRCKA can have an effect on killing ovarian cancer cells.”

Additionally, one of the issues occurring in women with ovarian cancer is the formation of spheroids, or clusters of tumor cells, which represent a major component of resistance to chemotherapy and recurrent disease. Using the small molecule to inhibit MRCKA blocked cell growth and spheroid formation in ovarian cancer cells lines.

“This means MRCKA shows strong therapeutic potential because it is involved in this kind of spheroid development, which is one of the key things driving resistance to a lot of drugs,” Duncan said. “Together, this opens the avenue that this kinase could be a very essential kinase for ovarian cancer therapy.”

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes CORE Grant CA06927, R01 CA211670, R01 CA142928, a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (SAP#4100068716), NIH T32 CA009035, Fox Chase Cancer Center Interdisciplinary Translational Cancer Research Grants, and American Cancer Society IRG-92-027-20. Support was also provided by generous donations from the Teal Tea Foundation, Goodis Fund, Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, Dubrow Fund, Bucks County Board of Associates, and the Mainline Board of Associates.

The paper, “Functional Proteomics Interrogation of the Kinome Identifies MRCKA as a Therapeutic Target in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma,” was published in Science Signaling.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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