The Polycomb group (PcG) genes encode for proteins comprising two multiprotein complexes, Polycomb repressive complex 1 (PRC1) and Polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2). Although the initial discovery of PcG genes was made in
Drosophila, as transcriptional repressors of homeotic ( HOX) genes. Polycomb repressive complexes have been since implicated in regulating a wide range of cellular processes, including differentiation and self-renewal in normal and cancer stem cells. Bmi1, a subunit of PRC1, has been long implicated in driving self-renewal, the key property of stem cells. Subsequent studies showing upregulation of Bmi1 in several cancers correlated with increased aggressiveness, radioresistance and metastatic potential, provided rationale for development of targeted therapies against Bmi1. Although Bmi1 activity can be reduced through transcriptional, post-transcriptional and post-translational regulation, to date, the most promising approach has been through small molecule inhibitors targeting Bmi1 activity. The post-translational targeting of Bmi1 in colorectal carcinoma, lung adenocarcinoma, multiple myeloma and medulloblastoma have led to significant reduction of self-renewal capacity of cancer stem cells, leading to slower tumour progression and reduced extent of metastatic spread. Further value of Bmi1 targeting in cancer can be established through trials evaluating the combinatorial effect of Bmi1 inhibition with current ‘gold standard’ therapies.