Public Release: 

Novel compound turns off mutant cancer gene in animals with leukemia

Georgetown University Medical Center

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Credit: Georgetown University

WASHINGTON (Oct. 9, 2015) -- A compound discovered and developed by a team of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers that halts cancer in animals with Ewing sarcoma and prostate cancer appears to work against some forms of leukemia, too. That finding and the team's latest work was published online Oct. 8 in Oncotarget.

The compound is YK-4-279, the first drug targeted at similar chromosomal translocations found in Ewing sarcoma, prostate cancer and in some forms of leukemia. Translocations occur when two normal genes break off from a chromosome and fuse together in a new location. This fusion produces new genes that manufacture proteins, which then push cancer cells to become more aggressive and spread. One of those proteins is EWS-FLI1. YK-4-279 appears effective in controlling the cancer promoting functions of EWS-FLI1.

"EWS-FLI1 is already known to drive a rare but deadly bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma, which occurs predominantly in children, teens and young adults," says Aykut Üren, MD, professor of molecular oncology at Georgetown Lombardi. "It also appears to drive cancer cell growth in some prostate cancers."

In this new study led by Üren, mice with EWS-FLI1-driven leukemia were given injections of YK-4-279 five days per week for two weeks and compared with untreated mice. By the end of the first week the mice receiving YK-4-279 had much lower numbers of leukemia cells. At the end of two weeks the treated mice were nearly normal by many measures, while the untreated mice had overwhelming numbers of cancer cells and died on average after three weeks, the researchers say. By contrast, mice receiving only two weeks of YK-4-279 lived nearly three times as long.

"The fact that treated mice did not get sick from the YK-4-279 gives us an early indication that it might be safe to use in humans, but that is a question that can't be answered until we conduct clinical trials," Üren explains. "We are looking for ways that would allow us to administer more of it, or even to formulate a pill."

Üren says much more work remains for the team in order to translate this drug from a laboratory application into clinical trials.

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Support for this work came from the Children's Cancer Foundation, St. Baldrick's Foundation, Go4theGoal, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Children´s Cancer Research Institute and from grants from the National Institutes of Health (RC4CA156509, R01CA133662, R01CA138212).

YK-4-279 was designed in the Georgetown University Medical Center Drug Discovery Program. Georgetown University is owner of patented intellectual property described in the paper. Üren and co-author Jeffrey Toretsky, PhD, are named as co-inventors on the patent. Georgetown University has licensed the technology for commercialization. Toretsky has a minority ownership interest in the company that has licensed the technology and occasionally serves as a consultant.

About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Georgetown Lombardi is one of only 45 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute (grant #P30 CA051008), and the only one in the Washington, DC area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

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