A computerized blueprint for starving cancer

Cancer has a way of corrupting molecules involved in metabolism for its killer cause. Now a group of researchers has developed what they say is the first genome-scale computer model of cancer cell metabolism, helping the group discover a new target against kidney cancer.

A goal of the effort is to find drugs that can specifically home in on metabolic targets to destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. While the group believes its computerized approach could work in a variety of cancers, it focused on kidney cancer initially, using a model of kidney cancer metabolism to find a drug that blocked the enzyme HMOX to kill cancer cells. The researchers--including Prof. Eytan Ruppin of Tel Aviv University, Eytal Gottlieb, a professor at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, U.K., and others--published their findings last week in Nature.

Targeting cancer metabolism to starve tumors has been a hot new area of oncology drug development in recent years. For example, last year Cambridge, MA-based upstart Agios Pharmaceuticals, which is focused on cancer metabolism research, landed a partnership deal with cancer drugmaker Celgene ($CELG) with an upfront payment of $130 million.

What Prof. Ruppin and his colleagues are doing with models of cancer metabolism could streamline efforts to discover drugs that impact metabolic pathways for a variety of malignancies. "This is the next big challenge for us," Prof. Ruppin said. "We are going to continue to build models for other types of cancer, and seek selective drug therapies to defeat them."

To build the model of kidney cancer metabolism, Prof. Ruppin and his collaborators observed thousands of metabolic activities in cancer cells. Those findings were compared with a model of normal human cellular metabolism. By showing the differences between the healthy and cancerous cells, they were able to begin hunting for drug targets.

- here's the group's release
- see the abstract in Nature

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