Scientists identify new drug target for advanced bowel cancer

In collaboration with Adfero

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) have discovered that an enzyme involved in the spread of breast cancer is also important for the growth and spread of bowel cancer.

The research team, who were part-funded by Cancer Research UK, found that bowel tumour cells with high levels of the enzyme, called lysyl oxidase (LOX), typically displayed increased cell growth.

In contrast, low levels of LOX were associated with limited bowel cancer cell growth in lab tests.

The discovery paves the way for the development of new drugs that target LOX and block its effects on bowel cancer cells.

Further research also revealed that LOX activates a molecule called SRC, which promotes the growth and spread of cancer cells.

There is already a leukaemia drug called dasatinib which blocks SRC function, and the research team showed that it reduced bowel cancer cell growth in the laboratory.

Lead researcher Dr Janine Erler, whose findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, said: "Our findings have revealed two potential new avenues for combating advanced bowel cancer - either with existing SRC inhibitor treatments or with drugs currently being developed to target LOX.

"We are looking forward to future clinical trials to see whether these drugs could benefit patients with advanced bowel cancer, who currently have few treatment options."

It may also be possible to develop a test that measures the levels of LOX in a patient's bowel cancer cells and helps to identify those individuals who are most likely to benefit from treatment with dasatinib.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said: "Cancer spread causes most deaths from the disease and is a key challenge for our doctors and scientists.

"This research sheds light on how bowel cancer spreads and offers new avenues that scientists can exploit to try and treat people with advanced disease more effectively."