New tool could predict how cancer will resist drugs before they are given to patients

Written by Jonathan Essel

Researchers, funded by Cancer Research UK (London, UK), at The Institute of Cancer Research (London, UK) have developed a new prediction tool. This new computer software system can be utilized in order to forecast how certain cancers may respond to a new drug even before it has been administered. The new system has the potential to transform the discovery of cancer drugs as it will be able to predict how tumors may become resistant to treatment before clinical trials.

The scientists began by analyzing all the potential mutations that could occur around a drug target before applying the prediction software in order to narrow the number of mutations to approximately 9–10, which are most likely to cause drug resistance.

The team tested their method on existing cancer drugs and the results demonstrated that the software was able to accurately predict many of the mutations. The prediction tool is the first to include the evolutionary impact of a mutation on cancer cells. Additionally it was able  to accurately identify regions within the drug target where resistance ‘hotspots’ are likely to occur, prioritizing these areas to target.

Teresa Kaserer from The Institute of Cancer Research, who developed the new prediction tool, commented: “Our new approach can predict which mutations are likely to arise in response to drug treatment in different types of tumors. This will be hugely beneficial in designing new cancer drugs. Instead of reacting to what we see in the clinic – when it’s too late as patients have stopped responding to treatment – we can use our computational method to predict during the drug design stage how resistance will arise.”

Study co-author Julian Blagg also from The Institute of Cancer Research concluded: “In recent years, targeted cancer therapies have brought significant benefits to patients, but the eventual emergence of drug resistance remains a major challenge. Predicting how a cancer drug target may mutate to kick out the therapeutic agents whilst maintaining its normal function can help us stay one step ahead of tumor evolution by creating new treatments that block a cancer’s escape routes.”