US Pharm. 2016;41(12):HS-20

According to new research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, England, blocking a molecule could bypass bowel cancer’s defense against the drug cetuximab. Although the medication helps many patients with advanced bowel cancer, it did not work at all in some patients; for others, cetuximab loses effectiveness.

To determine the reason for this, scientists at Queen’s University Belfast treated bowel cancer cells in the laboratory with cetuximab. Some cells survived the treatment by boosting the activity of a protein called ADAM17. However, if the researchers introduced a drug that blocked ADAM17 at the same time as cetuximab, the cancer cells died.

Cetuximab works by blocking a molecule known as epidermal growth factor receptor, which tells cells to grow. Prof. Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said, “This work shows how some bowel cancer cells are able to avoid damage from a particular drug, and offers a way to prevent it. The next step is to find out whether this could work in patients.”