Disrupting Cancer’s Circuitry – an Electrician’s View of Oncology

In many ways, cancer can be viewed like an integrated circuit. On-off switches and back up switches constitute the controls. When one of these switches stops working and a cell “short circuits,” cancer is the result. As we become more sophisticated in our understanding of cancer biology, we begin to create drugs that specifically target these short circuits.

On April 3, 2011, I will be reporting our most recent findings on novel compounds that target two parallel circuits in cancer cells. These compounds, or small molecules, disrupt the signal that drives cancer cell survival and proliferation. While the profiles of each drug alone are of interest, the profiles of the drugs in combination are better still. The phenomenon of cross talk defines an escape mechanism whereby cancer cells blocked from one passage, find a second. When we as therapists have the capacity to block more than one pathway, the cancer cell is trapped and often dies. This is what we have observed with these duel inhibitor combinations.

What is interesting is the fact that the activities cut across tumor types. Melanomas, colon cancers and lung cancers seem to have similar propensities to drive along these paths. Once again, we find that cancer biology is non-linear. Moreover, cancers share pathways across tumor types, pathways that might not intuitively seem related. This is the beauty of our platform — for it allows us to explore drugs and combinations that most people wouldn’t think of. It is these counterintuitive explorations that will likely lead to meaningful advances.