The incidence of brain metastases (BM) is tenfold higher than primary brain tumors. BM commonly originate from primary lung, breast, and melanoma tumors with a 90% mortality rate within one year of diagnosis. Current standard of care for BM includes surgical resection with concurrent chemoradiation, but does not extend median survival past 16 months, posing a large unmet need to identify novel therapies against BM.
From a large in-house biobank of patient-derived BM cell lines, the Singh Lab has generated murine orthotopic patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of lung, breast, and melanoma BM that recapitulate the stages of BM progression as seen in humans. Using these three PDX models, we identified a population of “pre-metastatic” brain metastasis-initiating cells (BMICs) that are newly arrived in the brain but have yet to form detectable tumors. Pre-metastatic BMICs are not detectable in human patients but are important therapeutic targets with the potential to prevent BM in at-risk patients.
RNA sequencing of pre-metastatic BMICs from all three PDX primary tumor models with subsequent Connectivity Map analysis identified novel compounds that have the potential of killing all three types of BMICs. In particular, we identified two compounds that have selective killing of BMICs in vitro from all three primary tumor cohorts while sparing non-cancerous cells. We further characterized their ability to inhibit the self-renewal and proliferative properties of BMICs. Ongoing in vivo work will investigate the compounds’ preclinical utilities in preventing BM.
Identification of novel small molecules that target BMICs could prevent the formation of BM completely and dramatically improve the prognosis of at-risk cancer patients.