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Researchers have identified a new class of drug that can be used to help shrink cancer tumours.
In some cancers – particularly melanomas – tumour cell growth and survival is promoted by inappropriate activation of the MEK/ERK signalling pathway as a result of mutations in the B-RAF gene.
While MEK inhibitors do stop tumour cells from growing, they have a limited ability to kill the cells outright and so have had limited success in promoting tumour regression in trials.
However, a team of scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia, has now uncovered the molecular reasons why MEK inhibitors only have this limited ability, and identified another class of drug that – when combined with MEK inhibitors – can cause tumour regression.
The team found that MEK inhibitors were limited in their ability to kill human B-RAF mutant tumour cells in vitro. However, if the cells were treated with both an MEK inhibitor and ABT-737 – a drug known as a BH3 mimetic – they were more likely to die.
The combination also caused tumour regression in mice transplanted with human B-RAF mutant tumour cells, suggesting that treating individuals with tumours characterised by B-RAF mutations with an MEK inhibitor and a BH3 mimetic might provide a powerful approach.
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