Teva's MLK inhibitor blocks aggressive breast cancer in MSU study

Attack the protein kinase MLK3, and the result could very likely block the expansion of an aggressive form of breast cancer, Michigan State University researchers have determined in an interesting new study.

The researchers' effort may also give a boost to CEP-1347, an MLK inhibitor under development by Teva Pharmaceutical's ($TEVA) subsidiary Cephalon that was used successfully in the laboratory study. (The Department of Defense's Breast Cancer Research Program and the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation provided funding support, and the journal Cancer Research published all the details.)

"While the classical approach to cancer drugs has been to find drugs that kill tumor cells, there recently also is an interest in finding drugs that interrupt metastasis," study co-author Kathy Gallo, a professor at MSU's Department of Physiology, said in a statement. "The hope is that such drugs in combination with conventional therapies may lead to better outcomes in patients."

Worth noting: The trial opens the door toward developing treatments that target triple-negative breast cancer tumor cells, which the researchers note are more aggressive than other forms of the disease and need more targeted therapies. But all of this is potentially years away, with human testing not likely any time soon. And animal tests can't always be repeated in humans, of course.

For the trial, the research team first determined how MLK3 propels the interaction of key cellular proteins that lead to cancer metastasis. Next, they used CEP-1347 to stop MLK3 from adding phosphates to other proteins and fueling the cancer migration. It turns out that getting rid of MLK3 (from certain cells) is a good thing because it impaired the process of adding phosphates, thereby stopping the cancer cells from spreading. Supporting the approach of targeting MLK3 even more, they determined that getting rid of it stopped tumors in animals from metastasizing to the lungs.

Coming next: Animal studies to see whether an MLK3 inhibitor works in preventing cancer metastasis.

- read the release
- check out the journal abstract