Public Release: 

New epigenetic drug strategy to treat cancer

Temple University Health System

(Philadelphia, PA) - Researchers have discovered that inhibiting CDK9, a DNA transcription regulator, reactivates genes that have been epigenetically silenced by cancer. Reactivation leads to restored tumor suppressor gene expression and enhanced anti-cancer immunity. It is the first time this particular kinase has been linked to gene silencing in mammals.

Jean-Pierre Issa, MD, Director of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research & Molecular Biology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM), led the research. The paper appears in the journal Cell.

It has been established that epigenetic mediators of gene silencing present new targets for cancer drugs. Hanghang Zhang, PhD, of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research & Molecular Biology at LKSOM, the first author on the report, performed a live cell drug screen with genetic confirmation to identify CDK9 as a target and to develop and test an effective inhibitor - MC180295. The new drug is highly selective, potentially avoiding the side effects associated with inhibiting the cell cycle. In the study it showed broad effectiveness against cancer both in vitro and in vivo. The drug was discovered in collaboration with investigators at the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery at the Temple University School of Pharmacy.

"In addition to reactivating tumor suppressor genes, CDK9 inhibition induces sensitivity to the immune checkpoint inhibitor α-PD-1 in vivo," said Issa. "It is an excellent target for epigenetic cancer therapy."


Other investigators contributing to the new study include Wayne Childers, George Morton, Marlene A. Jacobson and Magid Abou-Gharbia from the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery; Somnath Pandey, Hongxing Sun, Jozef Madzo, Woonbok Chung, Yasuyuki Okamoto, Takahiro Sato, Judit Garriga, Bela Patel, Jian Huang, Yi Zhang, Jaroslav Jelinek and Xavier Graña from the Fels Institute for Cancer Research & Molecular Biology; John Karanicolas from the Molecular Therapeutics Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center; Jittasak Khowsathit from the Molecular Therapeutics Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Department of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Kansas; Oscar Perez-Leal, Carlos A. Barrero, Carmen Merali and Salim Merali from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Temple University School of Pharmacy; Meghan Travers, Stephen B. Baylin and Cynthia A. Zahnow from the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins; Joshua Pan and Cigall Kadoch from the Department of Pediatric Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School; Natarajan V. Bhanu, Johayra Simithy and Benjamin A. Garcia from the Epigenetics Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; and Noël J-M Raynal at the Département de pharmacologie et physiologie at the Université de Montréal.

Editor's Note: Drs. Issa, Zhang, Childers and Abou-Gharbia, as well as Mr. Morton are co-inventors of the drug discovered during the course of this research. A patent is pending.

About Temple Health

Temple University Health System (TUHS) is a $2.1 billion academic health system dedicated to providing access to quality patient care and supporting excellence in medical education and research. The Health System consists of Temple University Hospital (TUH), ranked among the "Best Hospitals" in the region by U.S. News & World Report; TUH-Episcopal Campus; TUH-Northeastern Campus; Fox Chase Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center; Jeanes Hospital, a community-based hospital offering medical, surgical and emergency services; Temple Transport Team, a ground and air-ambulance company; and Temple Physicians, Inc., a network of community-based specialty and primary-care physician practices. TUHS is affiliated with the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, and Temple University Physicians, which is Temple Health's physician practice plan comprised of more than 500 full-time and part-time academic physicians in 20 clinical departments.

The Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM), established in 1901, is one of the nation's leading medical schools. Each year, the School of Medicine educates more than 800 medical students and approximately 240 graduate students. Based on its level of funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Katz School of Medicine is the second-highest ranked medical school in Philadelphia and the third-highest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. According to U.S. News & World Report, LKSOM is among the top 10 most applied-to medical schools in the nation.

Temple Health refers to the health, education and research activities carried out by the affiliates of Temple University Health System (TUHS) and by the Katz School of Medicine. TUHS neither provides nor controls the provision of health care. All health care is provided by its member organizations or independent health care providers affiliated with TUHS member organizations. Each TUHS member organization is owned and operated pursuant to its governing documents.

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