Investigators at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in collaboration with Scientists at Merck & Co., just published a study where they identified a set of genes required for cancers whose growth is driven by the "Myc" oncogene. In the search for new cancer treatments, there is a lot of focus on finding possible gene targets for drugs in disrupted signaling pathways that cause uncontrolled cell growth. The Myc gene is a central regulator for many, if not most, of these growth signal pathways, but it has been difficult to find drugs that can be used directly against this gene.
This work took an indirect approach to find possible drug targets related to Myc regulation. The researchers looked at 3,000 genes to find ones that also had to be present with the Myc gene to enable it to work in cancer cells. In the end they found 12 genes that were needed for Myc-driven neuroblastoma cancer cells (a non-brain nerve-related cancer that strikes infants and toddlers) to form tumors in mice.
What's interesting is that Pfizer previously found a chemical that blocks one of the genes identified--Casein Kinase 1 epsilon--in this study when they were looking for drugs to treat sleep disorders several years ago. Pfizer did not pursue it as a drug and it has been sitting on the shelf for a few years. Now, it has potential as an anti-cancer treatment. Also, in a completely unrelated study in Neuropsychopharmacology earlier this month, the same gene was implicated in behavior traits related to addiction. It seems it may be time to take the drugs Pfizer found for this gene off the shelf and look at them again more thoroughly.
You can read more about the cancer study in the press release from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.