Scientists in Switzerland may have found a way to inhibit the growth of colon cancer in humans, says a new study published in EMBO Molecular Medicine. Researchers in Geneva discovered that by blocking a particular biological pathway, they could prevent the growth of tumors, metastatic lesions, and cancer stem cells. The Hedgehog-GL1 (HH-GL1) pathway appears to be crucial in the progression of colon cancer to an incurable, late stage. Cells use HH-GL1 to communicate with each other to determine position, growth and survival.
Previous studies had hinted at HH-GL1’s role in the development of colon cancer. Since metastatic tumors rely on the HH-GL1 pathway to sustain growth, the information from the study could be used to develop treatments for colon cancer that has spread to other organs, such as the liver. Researchers are also hopeful that blocking the HH-GL1 pathway can prevent recurrence, a common problem in colon cancer. By treating laboratory mice with cyclopamine, a chemical that inhibits HH-GL1, scientists were able to keep the mice tumor-free one year after treatment.
Earlier this month, scientists in North Carolina found another genetic target that may be useful in treating colorectal cancer. The pseudokinase ERBB3 is closely related to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is already a target of several drugs used to treat colorectal cancer. Scientists found that genetically blocking ERBB3 was effective at preventing the disease in mice with colon cancer. In human colon cancer cells, removing ERBB3 caused a dramatic increase in cell death.
Both discoveries could potentially lead to effective new therapies for colon cancer. Other ompanies developing colon cancer treatments include Nanobiotix, Aduro Biotech, and Amgen. Amgen recently announced that its colon cancer drug Vectibix met its goals in a late-stage study.