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Genetic variation in East Asians found to explain resistance to cancer drugs
Date:3/18/2012

DURHAM, N.C., AND SINGAPORE A multi-national research team led by scientists at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School has identified the reason why some patients fail to respond to some of the most successful cancer drugs.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs (TKIs) work effectively in most patients to fight certain blood cell cancers, such as chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and non-small-cell lung cancers (NSCLC) with mutations in the EGFR gene.

These precisely targeted drugs shut down molecular pathways that keep these cancers flourishing and include TKIs for treating CML, and the form of NSCLC with EGFR genetic mutations.

Now the team at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, working with the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), Singapore General Hospital and the National Cancer Centre Singapore, has discovered that there is a common variation in the BIM gene in people of East Asian descent that contributes to some patients' failure to benefit from these tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs.

"Because we could determine in cells how the BIM gene variant caused TKI resistance, we were able to devise a strategy to overcome it," said S. Tiong Ong, M.B.B. Ch., senior author of the study and associate professor in the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Signature Research Programme at Duke-NUS and Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, at Duke University Medical Center.

"A novel class of drugs called the BH3-mimetics provided the answer," Ong said. "When the BH3 drugs were added to the TKI therapy in experiments conducted on cancer cells with the BIM gene variant, we were able to overcome the resistance conferred by the gene. Our next step will be to bring this to clinical trials with patients."

Said Yijun Ruan, Ph.D., a co-senior author of this study and associate director for Genome Technology and Biology at GIS: "We used a genome-wide sequencing approach to specifically look for structural changes
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Contact: Mary Jane Gore
mary.gore@duke.edu
919-660-1309
Duke University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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