Before oncologists can tackle a patient’s cancer they need to know the type of cancer, of course, but knowing what biomarkers comprise the cancer can lead to treatment with a targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is especially critical for aggressive cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Now, researchers report they have found a genetic marker to help identify lung cancer patients who will benefit from an existing anti-cancer drug, imatinib.
Researchers from the Cancer Research UK, Manchester Institute report the Abelson (ABL) family of nonreceptor tyrosine kinases, ABL1 and ABL2, are “mutated or amplified” in nearly 10% of lung cancer cases. The markers, according to the researchers, are key to tumor growth and could give oncologists another way to identify and treat lung cancer patients.
“Drugs that block the activity of the ABL proteins have been used to successfully treat leukaemia patients, where ABL is overactive,” said Dr John Brognard, who led the study, in the March 22 press release announcing the findings. “However, until now, the role of ABL1 and ABL2 in other cancer types hasn’t really been explored.”
The researchers found that ABL1 mutations helped lung cancer cells thrive. However, when the ABL inhibitor, imatinib, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for leukemia and certain GI tumors, was applied in the lab, it effectively blocked tumor growth.
A 2008 study by researchers in Italy found that imatinib “enhances the therapeutic response to gemcitabine” in combination treatment for malignant mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer of the lining of the lungs, is often treated with similar protocols as lung cancer. Both cancers have shown to be aggressive and often reject and defeat many of the common treatments. However, care that focuses on a patient’s unique traits, such as specific biomarkers like ABL1, allows the oncologists to personalize treatment.
Medical care targeted to a patient’s unique characteristics and genetic makeup optimizes the potential for success of the treatment and offers treatment options that may not otherwise have been considered.
“Drugs like imatinib are already commercially available,” says Dr. Brognard. “This means that we now have an extra ready-made tool for the treatment of lung cancer – we just need to identify which patients will benefit by doing some additional tests.”