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Why Tumors Become Drug-Resistant

New findings could lead to drugs that fight back when tumors don’t respond to treatment (August 5)

Cancer drugs known as ErbB inhibitors have shown great success in treating many patients with lung, breast, colon, and other types of cancer. However, ErbB drug resistance means that many other patients do not respond, and even among those who do, tumors commonly return.

A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reveals that much of this resistance develops because a protein called AXL helps cancer cells to circumvent the effects of ErbB inhibitors, allowing them to grow unchecked. The findings suggest that combining drugs that target AXL and ErbB receptors could offer a better way to fight tumors, says Dr. Doug Lauffenburger, head of MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering.

“Drug resistance is the major challenge in cancer these days. People are coming up with a lot of targeted therapies for particular genes and identifying drugs that work against them, but resistance is just invariably the issue,” says Lauffenburger, the senior author of a paper describing the findings in the Aug. 6 issue of Science Signaling.

The researchers found that EGFR paired with the AXL receptor appears to be the strongest marker for EGFR inhibitor resistance. They found this pattern across many types of cancer, including lung, breast, and pancreatic.

Source: MIT; August 5, 2013.

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