ICR researchers discover use of ibrutinib drug to attack oesophageal cancer cells


Scientists from the UK Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) have identified an existing drug, ibrutinib, which could be effective against oesophageal cancers.

Ibrutinib is already in use to treat patients with blood cancer.

The team of ICR researchers showed that oesophageal cancer cells with a cancer-causing mutation in a gene called MYC become dependent upon or addicted to a second gene called BTK.

The scientists used ibrutinib to block the function of BTK, which in turn helped in killing the oesophageal cancer cells grown in the laboratory. The normal cells were left relatively unaffected.

ICR Cancer Genomics professor Chris Lord said: “Oesophageal cancers are often very hard to control.

“Our laboratory work suggests that an existing drug, which we know is safe, could be used in MYC-mutated patients. Our hope is that these results are reproduced in clinical trials.”

A Phase II clinical trial is currently being conducted at The Royal Marsden in the UK where the research team is evaluating the potential of ibrutinib to treat oesophageal cancer patients with MYC mutations.

"Our laboratory work suggests that an existing drug, which we know is safe, could be used in MYC-mutated patients. Our hope is that these results are reproduced in clinical trials."

The scientists are assessing the possibilities of patients with MYC-mutated oesophageal cancers to respond to the blood cancer drug so that the existing therapy can be used for a new treatment.

To this end, researchers used a systematic approach to study the sensitivity of a large number of oesophageal cancer cells to cancer drugs that are already used in the treatment of other types of cancer.

In addition, the team assessed the effects of inactivating 720 key genes on cancer cells.

With the integration of the two approaches, scientists discovered the link between BTK addiction and ibrutinib sensitivity in oesophageal cancer cells.


Image: Drugs. Photo: courtesy of The Institute of Cancer Research.