The study, led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, showed how experimental drugs called PARP inhibitors could be useful in up to half of non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumours with a fault in one of the ways cells repair damage to their DNA.
Adding PARP inhibitors to these lung cancer cells damages a second DNA damage repair system. This double blow kills the lung cancer cells, but leaves healthy cells unscathed.
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK accounting for more than a fifth of all cancer deaths. More than eight out of 10 cases of lung cancer are non-small-cell lung cancer – more than 33,000 cases per year in the UK.
There are very few treatment options for patients with lung cancer. The few that are available have a limited effect, and there is an urgent need for new treatments.
Study author Dr Chris Lord, a Cancer Research-UK funded scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), said: “This study suggests that PARP inhibitors – treatments already in clinical trials to treat breast and ovarian cancer – could also be a promising treatment for patients with certain forms of lung cancer.
“Lung cancer is hard to treat and unfortunately has very poor survival – so there’s an urgent need to find new treatments. Our research opens up an exciting new route, by showing how we could repurpose drugs originally designed for use against other forms of cancer. We now need to build on this promising early research by testing PARP inhibitors against lung cancer in clinical trials to confirm whether they can benefit patients.”
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Lung cancer is the UK’s biggest cancer killer but it’s proven to be one of the hardest cancers to study and survival rates remain poor.
“We’re making substantial investments in lung cancer research to discover better ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Our hope is that studies like this will lead to more effective treatments for lung cancer patients and ultimately save more lives.”
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Lord et al A high-throughput Screen Identifies PARP1/2 Inhibitors as a Potential Therapy for ECC1-Deficient Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (2013) Oncogene DOI: 10.1038/onc.2013.311
Notes to editors
The fault is in a key protein involved in DNA repair called Excision Repair Cross-Complementation group 1 (ERCC1).
PARP inhibitors are already used to treat women with breast and ovarian cancers that contain faulty high-risk BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. BRCA genes, like the ERCC1 gene, are key in DNA repair. Adding PARP inhibitors to cells with BRCA faults also damages two DNA repair systems simultaneously – killing tumour cells.