BioMarker IGF Project Aims to Identify and Validate Biomarkers for the IGF-1 Signalling Pathway in Cancer

Laying down biomarkers for future cancer treatments

The BioMarker IGF project, supported by Marie Curie Actions – an EU research fund managed by the Research Executive Agency, aims to identify and validate biomarkers for the IGF-1 signalling pathway in cancer. The IGF-1 signalling pathway is active in a majority of cancers and contributes not only to the growth of tumours and the ability of cancer to spread, but also to a lack of responses to many existing therapies, including chemotherapy and radiation.

Targeting existing proteins in the human body which contribute to the growth of cancerous cells can help researchers develop tailor-made treatments. The Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 Receptor (IGF-1R) is a protein found on the surface of human cells which plays a crucial role: it aids growth, increases muscle mass and boosts cell survival and proliferation. However, it struggles to discern between good and bad effects on cells. IGF-1R has also been shown to promote the growth and invasiveness of cancer cells.

While this unwanted secondary function is an obvious risk to health, it also provides cancer researchers with an opportunity. Researchers in the field believe that understanding the characteristics of IGF-1R activity could help them develop important therapeutic treatments which use these attributes to target cancerous cells in the breast, lung and colon.

The potential for using these versatile proteins as targets in cancer cells has attracted major interest from pharmaceutical companies and clinicians alike. At least 70 clinical trials are under way worldwide to test several different drugs that inhibit the IGF-1R and the IGF-1 signalling pathway at different points.

One of the major challenges to targeting the IGF-1 pathway in cancer is the lack of suitable biomarkers. They could be used to assess IGF-1R activity in tumours, facilitate the selection of patients and subsets of tumours that are most likely to respond to inhibitors, and monitor responses to IGF-1R inhibition.

Marking out the route

The BioMarker IGF project aims to address this problem by identifying and validating biomarkers for the IGF-1 signalling pathway in cancer. The research is being carried out by experts in IGF-1 signalling at University College Cork in collaboration with experts in pharmacogenomic approaches to biomarker discovery in cancer at Almac Diagnostics, a Northern Irish Biomarker Discovery, Development and Delivery company. Professor Rosemary O’Connor is the project coordinator.

The collaborative aspect, which includes extensive transfer of knowledge and experience, as well as exchanges of researchers, is integral to the project’s success. The co-operation is also expected to lead to the development of commercial applications. The industry partner Almac is currently engaged in developing diagnostic tools for the treatment of cancer, according to Prof. O’Connor. Other companies and clinical investigators are also testing inhibitors of the IGF-1 pathway.

The ultimate objective of the project is to select a clinically validated signature or biomarker for IGF-1 pathway activity in one or more cancers. This would ideally be used to select patients or subsets of cancers suitable for inhibitors of this pathway in combination with other therapies, according to Prof. O’Connor. The biomarkers could also be used to monitor therapy responses.

The project team is currently in the process of analysing data from genomic screens to identify good matches. These will then be validated using patient databases, and tested in clinical trials.

Project details

  • Project acronym: BioMarkerIGF
  • Participants: Ireland (Coordinator), United Kingdom
  • Project FP7 251480
  • Total costs: 799 470 EUR
  • EU contribution: 799 470 EUR
  • Duration: September 2010 - August 2014