Existing drugs could benefit patients with bone cancer, genetic study suggests
New research suggests a subset of bone cancer patients are likely to respond to IGF1R inhibitors based on their genetic profile
A subgroup of patients with osteosarcoma – a form of bone cancer – could be helped by an existing drug, suggest scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their collaborators at University College London Cancer Institute and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust. In the largest genetic sequencing study of osteosarcoma to date, scientists discovered that 10 per cent of patients with a genetic mutation in particular growth factor signalling genes may benefit from existing drugs, known as IGF1R inhibitors.
The results, published today (23 June) in Nature Communications suggest a re-trial of IGF1R inhibitors for the subset of patients with osteosarcoma who are likely to respond based on their genetic profile.
Osteosarcoma is the most common form of primary bone cancer in children and young adults, usually affecting people aged 10 to 24 years*. 160 new patients are diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the UK each year, of which around one third cannot be cured.
The current treatment for osteosarcoma is chemotherapy followed by surgery, where the bone tumours are removed. There has not been a new treatment for osteosarcoma in almost 40 years, in spite of extensive research.
In the study, scientists analysed the genome of 112 childhood and adult tumours – double the number of tumours studied previously. In 10 per cent of cases, the team discovered cancer-driving mutations in insulin-like growth factor (IGF) signalling genes.
IGF signalling plays a major role in bone growth and development during puberty. Researchers believe that IGF signalling is also implicated in the uncontrollable growth of bone that is characteristic of osteosarcoma.
IGF signalling genes are the target of existing drugs, known as IGF1R inhibitors. Past clinical trials of IGF1R inhibitors as a treatment for osteosarcoma yielded mixed results although occasional patients responded to the treatment. In spite of this, IGF1R inhibitors have not been further tested in osteosarcoma, as it had been unclear who would benefit from the treatment.
“Osteosarcoma is difficult to treat. Despite extensive research over the past 40 years, no new treatment options have been found. In this study we reveal a clear biological target for osteosarcoma that can be reached with existing drugs.”
Dr Sam Behjati First author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge
In the study, scientists looked for mutations in the tumours to understand the mechanism of osteosarcoma development. The genetic information revealed a specific process for rearranging the chromosomes that results in several cancer-driving mutations at once.
“By sequencing the whole genome of the tumours, we have unpicked the mechanism behind osteosarcoma for the first time. We discovered a new process – chromothripsis amplification – in which the chromosome is shattered, multiplied and rejigged to generate multiple cancer-driving mutations at the same time. We believe this is why we see very similar osteosarcoma tumours in children and adults, which are not the result of ageing.”
Professor Adrienne Flanagan Senior author from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust and University College London Cancer Institute
“Currently, there are no new osteosarcoma treatments on the horizon. Genomic sequencing has provided the evidence needed to revisit clinical trials of IGF1R inhibitors for the subset of patients that responded in the past. The mutations of patients’ tumours may enable clinicians to predict who will, and will not respond to these drugs, resulting in more efficient clinical trials. The drugs could be effective for 10 per cent of osteosarcoma patients.”
Dr Peter Campbell Lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Almost all – 94 per cent – of osteosarcomas start in the long bones of the arms and legs, including the lower thigh bone (distal femur), upper shin bone (proximal tibia) and upper arm bone (proximal humerus). It is an aggressive cancer that can spread in the bloodstream to the lungs, where it forms bony nodules that must be detected and cut out by hand.
*Provided by Bone Cancer Research Trust: www.bcrt.org.uk/information/information-by-type/osteosarcoma/
For more information and support regarding osteosarcoma and bone cancer please visit the Bone Cancer Research Trust website at www.bcrt.org.uk or contact a member of the team by emailing email@example.com.
If you’d like to speak to someone about osteosarcoma, please contact the Sarcoma UK Support Line Nurses on 0808 801 0401 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit the Sarcoma UK website at www.sarcoma.org.uk/
This work was supported by Wellcome, the Skeletal Cancer Action Trust, UK, the RNOH NHS Trust, Rosetrees Trust UK and the Bone Cancer Research Trust.
The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. To date, 96 affiliates of the University have won the Nobel Prize. Founded in 1209, the University comprises 31 autonomous Colleges, which admit undergraduates and provide small-group tuition, and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Cambridge is a global university. Its 19,000 student body includes 3,700 international students from 120 countries. Cambridge researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and the University has established larger-scale partnerships in Asia, Africa and America. The University sits at the heart of one of the world’s largest technology clusters. The ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ has created 1,500 hi-tech companies, 14 of them valued at over US$1 billion and two at over US$10 billion. Cambridge promotes the interface between academia and business, and has a global reputation for innovation.
The RNOH is the largest specialist orthopaedic hospital in the UK, and a recognised world leader in the field of orthopaedics and neuro-musculoskeletal medicine. It treats more than 125,000 patients a year for conditions ranging from acute spinal injuries and bone cancer to prosthetic rehabilitation and chronic back pain.
Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world’s top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 35,000 students from 150 countries and more than 11,000 staff. Our annual income is more than £1 billion.
UCL Cancer Institute, London, is the hub for cancer research at University College London (UCL), one of the world’s leading universities. The UCL Cancer Institute draws together over 300 researchers/clinicians working to translate research discoveries into new strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.
The Bone Cancer Research Trust is the leading charity dedicated to fighting primary bone cancer. The charity’s mission is to save lives and improve outcomes for people affected by primary bone cancer through research, information, awareness and support.
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world’s leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.
Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate.
Related blog posts
Is cancer a genetic disease?
Cancer is the most common human genetic disease. The transition from a normal cell to a malignant cancer is driven by ...
Pharmacogenomics and cancer
Pharmacogenomics is a specific kind of genetic testing that offers key advantages for doctors trying to choose the best drugs for ...
17 Jan 2022
British and Irish project at forefront of global effort to map genomes of all life on Earth
Activity on Earth BioGenome Project and affiliated initiatives due to ramp up considerably in 2022
13 Jan 2022
Unprecedented cellular maps of tissues enabled by new tool
Ability to combine cell function and spatial information key to understanding life at molecular level