Key protein may be lung cancer’s weakness

U. SHEFFIELD (UK) — Scientists have discovered that a deadly form of lung cancer depends on a specific protein—a finding that could pave the way for new, more effective treatments.

Around 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK each year, and SCLC accounts for nearly one in five of all these cases.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for SCLC patients is very bleak—two thirds of people are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, and the five-year survival rate with current treatments is less than five percent.


But now researchers at the University of Sheffield and Cologne have discovered that survival of SCLC cells grown from human tumors relies upon a protein called Aurora kinase.

This finding, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that “targeted” therapeutic strategies should focus on testing Aurora kinase inhibitors, several of which have already been developed by pharmaceutical companies.

The team also went on to show that Aurora kinase inhibitors are most effective at killing SCLC cells when the cells have high levels of the MYC cancer gene.

This predicts that these drugs might be most beneficial for SCLC patients with a MYC gene amplification, which is found in up to seven percent of people diagnosed with SCLC.

Patrick Eyers, from the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Cancer Studies, says: “A major goal of modern cancer research is to discover drugs that target vulnerabilities in specific cancer patient sub-populations.

“Current chemotherapy for SCLC kills cancerous cells and non-cancerous cells indiscriminately and results in severe side effects.

“However, revolutionary clinical trials have recently validated ‘molecularly targeted’ kinase inhibitors for treating cancers such as melanoma, leukaemia, and non-small cell lung cancer.

“We have been studying Aurora kinase inhibitors for several years, and the remarkable vulnerability of some SCLC-derived cells to such drugs can hopefully be rapidly confirmed by careful stratification of SCLC patients and their enrolment in new clinical trials.”

Source: University of Sheffield