Breakthrough in understanding lung cancer vulnerabilities points the way to new targeted therapy

October 1, 2012

More effective treatments for one of the deadliest forms of cancer are one step closer thanks to groundbreaking research from an international collaborative study.

Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Cologne have identified the dependencies of multiple Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) types – paving the way for clinical trials of new targeted treatments which could revolutionise the current approach.

Around 40,000 people are diagnosed annually with lung cancer in the UK, and SCLC accounts for nearly one in five of all these cases.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for SCLC patients is very bleak – two thirds of people are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease when the five year survival rate with current treatments is less than five per cent.

But now researchers have discovered that survival of SCLC cells grown from human tumours relies upon a protein called Aurora kinase. This finding, published today in the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggests that 'targeted' therapeutic strategies should focus on testing Aurora kinase inhibitors, several of which have already been developed by pharmaceutical companies.

The team also went on to show that Aurora kinase inhibitors are most effective at killing SCLC cells when the cells have high levels of the MYC . This predicts that these drugs might be most beneficial for SCLC patients with a MYC , which is found in up to seven per cent of people diagnosed with SCLC.

Dr Patrick Eyers, from the University of Sheffield's Institute for , said: "A major goal of modern cancer research is to discover drugs that vulnerabilities in specific sub-populations. Current chemotherapy for SCLC kills and non-cancerous cells indiscriminately and results in severe side effects.

"However, revolutionary clinical trials have recently validated 'molecularly targeted' kinase inhibitors for treating cancers such as melanoma, leukaemia and non-small cell lung cancer.

"We have been studying Aurora kinase inhibitors for several years, and the remarkable vulnerability of some SCLC-derived cells to such drugs can hopefully be rapidly confirmed by careful stratification of SCLC patients and their enrolment in new clinical trials."

Explore further: Chemotherapy effective for patients with resected SCLC or large-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma

Related Stories

A new approach to cancer treatment published

October 10, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Scientists have discovered a mechanism that causes an aggressive type of lung cancer to re-grow following chemotherapy, offering hope for new therapies.

Recommended for you

Cancer's big data problem

October 20, 2016

Data is pouring into the hands of cancer researchers, thanks to improvements in imaging, models and understanding of genetics. Today the data from a single patient's tumor in a clinical trial can add up to one terabyte—the ...

Gene fusions can lead to glioblastoma in children

October 20, 2016

Every year, about 60 children and adolescents in Germany are diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very aggressive type of brain cancer, which is still mostly untreatable. Now, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.