Research ArticleCancer

A PTK7-targeted antibody-drug conjugate reduces tumor-initiating cells and induces sustained tumor regressions

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Science Translational Medicine  11 Jan 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 372, eaag2611
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aag2611

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Initiating an antitumor attack

Cancer is notorious for relapsing after treatment, making it difficult to eradicate from a patient’s body. Such relapses are driven by tumor-initiating cells, a type of stem cells that give rise to tumors. Damelin et al. determined that a protein called PTK7 is frequently present on tumor-initiating cells and developed an antibody-drug conjugate for targeting it. The authors demonstrated the effectiveness of this therapy in mouse models of several tumor types and confirmed that it reduces tumor-initiating cells and outperforms standard chemotherapy. The antibody-drug conjugate also had some unexpected benefits, reducing tumor angiogenesis and promoting antitumor immunity, all of which may contribute to its effectiveness.


Disease relapse after treatment is common in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), ovarian cancer (OVCA), and non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Therapies that target tumor-initiating cells (TICs) should improve patient survival by eliminating the cells that can drive tumor recurrence and metastasis. We demonstrate that protein tyrosine kinase 7 (PTK7), a highly conserved but catalytically inactive receptor tyrosine kinase in the Wnt signaling pathway, is enriched on TICs in low-passage TNBC, OVCA, and NSCLC patient–derived xenografts (PDXs). To deliver a potent anticancer drug to PTK7-expressing TICs, we generated a targeted antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) composed of a humanized anti-PTK7 monoclonal antibody, a cleavable valine-citrulline–based linker, and Aur0101, an auristatin microtubule inhibitor. The PTK7-targeted ADC induced sustained tumor regressions and outperformed standard-of-care chemotherapy. Moreover, the ADC specifically reduced the frequency of TICs, as determined by serial transplantation experiments. In addition to reducing the TIC frequency, the PTK7-targeted ADC may have additional antitumor mechanisms of action, including the inhibition of angiogenesis and the stimulation of immune cells. Together, these preclinical data demonstrate the potential for the PTK7-targeted ADC to improve the long-term survival of cancer patients.

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