Gillian Murphy, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Oncology, University of Cambridge, UK
A novel strategy for targeting metalloproteinases in cancer
Epithelial tumours evolve in a multi-step manner, involving both inflammatory and mesenchymal cells. Although intrinsic factors drive malignant progression, the influence of the micro-environment of neoplastic cells is a major feature of tumorigenesis. Extracellular proteinases, notably the metalloproteinases, are key players in the regulation of this cellular environment, acting as major effectors of both cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions. They are involved in modifying ECM integrity, growth factor availability and the function of cell surface signalling systems, with consequent effects on cellular differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis.This has made metalloproteinases important targets for therapeutic interventions in cancer and small molecule inhibitors focussed on chelation of the active site zinc and binding within the immediate active site pocket were developed. These were not successful in early clinical trials due to the relative lack of specificity and precise knowledge of the target proteinase(s) in specific cancers. We can now appreciate that it is essential that we understand the relative roles of the different enzymes (of which there are over 60) in terms of their pro and anti tumour activity and their precise sites of expression The next generations of metalloproteinase inhibitors need the added specificity that might be gained from an understanding of the structure of individual active sites and the role of extra catalytic domains in substrate binding and other aspects of their biology. We have prepared scFv antibodies to the extra catalytic domains of two membrane metalloproteinases, MMP-14 and ADAM17, that play key roles in the tumour microenvironment. Our rationale and experiences with these agents will be presented in more detail.