Five Biomarkers for Overcoming Colorectal Cancer Drug Resistance Identified


< Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho's Team >

KAIST researchers have identified five biomarkers that will help them address resistance to cancer-targeting therapeutics. This new treatment strategy will bring us one step closer to precision medicine for patients who showed resistance.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer worldwide. The number of patients has surpassed 1 million, and its five-year survival rate significantly drops to about 20 percent when metastasized.  In Korea, the surge of colorectal cancer has been the highest in the last 10 years due to increasing Westernized dietary patterns and obesity. It is expected that the number and mortality rates of colorectal cancer patients will increase sharply as the nation is rapidly facing an increase in its aging population.

Recently, anticancer agents targeting only specific molecules of colon cancer cells have been developed. Unlike conventional anticancer medications, these selectively treat only specific target factors, so they can significantly reduce some of the side-effects of anticancer therapy while enhancing drug efficacy.

Cetuximab is the most well-known FDA approved anticancer medication. It is a biomarker that predicts drug reactivity and utilizes the presence of the ‘KRAS’ gene mutation. Cetuximab is prescribed to patients who don’t carry the KRAS gene mutation.

However, even in patients without the KRAS gene mutation, the response rate of Cetuximab is only about fifty percent, and there is also resistance to drugs after targeted chemotherapy. Compared with conventional chemotherapy alone, the life expectancy only lasts five months on average.

In research featured in the FEBS Journal as the cover paper for the April 7 edition, the KAIST research team led by Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho at the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering presented five additional biomarkers that could increase Cetuximab responsiveness using systems biology approach that combines genomic data analysis, mathematical modeling, and cell experiments. The experimental inhibition of newly discovered biomarkers DUSP4, ETV5, GNB5, NT5E, and PHLDA1 in colorectal cancer cells has been shown to overcome Cetuximab resistance in  KRAS-normal genes. The research team confirmed that when suppressing GNB5, one of the new biomarkers, it was shown to overcome resistance to Cetuximab regardless of having a mutation in the KRAS gene.

Professor Cho said, “There has not been an example of colorectal cancer treatment involving regulation of the GNB5 gene.” He continued, “Identifying the principle of drug resistance in cancer cells through systems biology and discovering new biomarkers that could be a new molecular target to overcome drug resistance suggest real potential to actualize precision medicine.”

This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) and funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (2017R1A2A1A17069642 and 2015M3A9A7067220).



Image 1. The cover of FEBS Journal for April 2019


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