On June 1, 2011, Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s (CHI’s) Insight Pharma Reports announced the publication of our new book-length report, Multitargeted Therapies: Promiscuous Drugs and Combination Therapies.
In the past 20 years or so, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry R&D has been increasingly aimed at developing drugs to treat complex diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, the one drug-one target-one disease paradigm that has become dominant in the post-genomic era has proven to be inadequate to address complex diseases, which have multiple “causes”, and each of which may be more than one disease. This has been a major cause of clinical failure and the low productivity of the pharmaceutical industry.
Moreover, researchers have found that most of the successful, FDA-approved small-molecule drugs that were developed prior to the year 2000 are promiscuous, i.e., they are single drugs that address multiple targets. In addition, the great majority of kinase inhibitors, one of the most successful drug classes of the early 21st century, are also promiscuous.
The study of small-molecule drug promiscuity has spawned the emerging field of network pharmacology, which can be applied both to study drug promiscuity and to rationally design small-molecule multitargeted drugs. (Researchers can discover or design multitargeted kinase inhibitors without the use of network pharmacology, however.)
Meanwhile, the development of targeted drugs such as kinase inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies has resulted in the need to develop multitargeted combination therapies. This has been especially true in cancer, where disease causation may involve multiple signaling pathways. In particular, the development of resistance to targeted antitumor drugs has spawned the need to develop second-generation treatments, many of which are multitargeted combination therapies.
Our report covers both discovery and design of small-molecule promiscuous/multitargeted drugs, and of multitargeted combination therapies.
The design of multitargeted combination therapies is one of the hottest areas of cancer R&D today, especially with respect to developing means to overcome resistance to targeted therapies. This area was the focus of many key presentations at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, which was held in Chicago on June 3-7. For example, treatment with vemurafenib (PLX4032) of metastatic melanoma patients whose tumors carry the B-Raf(V600E) mutation has produced spectacular overall response rates and increased survival. However, in nearly all cases, the tumors relapse. The latest results with vemurafenib were discussed at ASCO 2011, as well as strategies to overcome resistance to therapy. Our new report also discusses strategies for overcoming vemurafenib resistance, all of which involve design of multitargeted combination therapies.
Another topic discussed at ASCO 2011 was antitumor strategies based on synthetic lethality. We discussed this strategy in an earlier article on this blog, especially with respect to poly(ADP) ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors such as KuDOS/AstraZenaca’s olaparib. At a session at the ASCO meeting entitled “PARP Inhibitors, DNA Repair, and Beyond: Theory Meets Reality in the Clinic”, speakers reviewed current progress in developing PARP inhibitors, of which six are now in clinical development.
This session also included a presentation by Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis TN) on other ways of using the synthetic lethally strategy, for example by targeting kinases involved in DNA repair pathways such as ATM (Ataxia-Telangiectasia Mutated) or Chk1 checkpoint kinase, or even utilizing features of the tumor microenviroment such as hypoxia. Such strategies might be used to design multitargeted combination therapies that specifically target cancer cells with defects in DNA repair and/or in hypoxic solid tumors, and/or to sensitize cancer cells to radiation.
Our new report includes a chapter on using the synthetic lethality strategy to design combination therapies of a cytotoxic drug with a chemosensitizing agent, and to develop therapies for p53-negative cancers. (The key tumor suppressor p53 is deleted, mutated, or inactivated in the majority of human cancers).
Although design of multitargeted combination therapies, as well as discovery and design of kinase inhibitors, are of key importance for current oncology R&D and are also being applied to other diseases, design of single small-molecule multitargeted drugs via network pharmacology is an early-stage, and perhaps a premature, technology. Nevertheless, given the current pharmaceutical company R&D business model that emphasizes outsourcing early-stage R&D, academic research groups and biotechnology companies that are active in this area may be able to forge partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.
For more information on Multitargeted Therapies: Promiscuous Drugs and Combination Therapies, or to order it, see the Insight Pharma Reports website.