Cancer stem cells are an underlying cause of tumor recurrence and metastasis. The majority of cancer drugs, while killing the bulk of tumor cells, ultimately fail to induce durable clinical responses because these cells develop a resistance to treatment over time. A reason for this acquired resistance may be the presence of small minority of cells in the tumor called cancer stem cells (CSC). These CSCs are often resistant to existing cancer therapies including targeted drugs, chemo- and radiation therapy.
The CSCs within tumors have the capacity to regenerate the primary tumor. They also acquire characteristics that increase their invasive potential. The ability of CSCs to move to other sites in the body, combined with the capability to initiate a new tumor mass, may implicate CSCs as an important factor in the formation of metastases. Metastatic tumor sites are the cause of death in more than 90% of human cancer patients. Cancer stems cells have been found in many types of tumors, including leukemia, myeloma, breast, prostate, colon, brain, lung and other cancers.
In order to develop truly effective treatments that can create a durable clinical response it is important to develop drugs that can target and kill CSCs. A major factor that has prevented the discovery of drugs targeting CSCs is that isolated CSCs rapidly differentiate in culture, yielding the non-CSCs that represent the majority of cells in tumors.
Verastem’s proprietary research has developed a system for the discovery of a new generation of cancer drugs that can selectively target CSCs and provide a strategy for treatment of cancer patients. This has been accomplished by developing novel methods to create large numbers of cells that stably reside within the cancer stem-cell state. By engineering tumor cells to stably transition to CSCs, Verastem has established high-throughput drug discovery systems that make it possible to identify and develop drugs specifically targeting CSCs.
Our technology identifies drugs that are able to target and kill cancer stem cells thereby reducing the initiation of new tumors.