Research ArticleCancer

Targeting LGR5+ cells with an antibody-drug conjugate for the treatment of colon cancer

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Nov 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 314, pp. 314ra186
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac7433

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Stemming the progression of cancer

LGR5 is a well-known marker of intestinal cancer stem cells, which makes it an attractive target for anticancer treatments. Unfortunately, it is also found in healthy intestinal stem cells, giving rise to concerns about the potential toxicity of such treatments. Now, Junttila et al. used preclinical models of intestinal cancer to demonstrate that targeting LGR5 with an antibody-drug conjugate is effective for shrinking tumors without damaging the surrounding normal tissues. These observations of preclinical effectiveness as well as safety suggest that targeting LGR5-expressing cells may be a viable therapeutic strategy and a candidate for evaluation in human studies.


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are hypothesized to actively maintain tumors similarly to how their normal counterparts replenish differentiated cell types within tissues, making them an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of cancer. Because most CSC markers also label normal tissue stem cells, it is unclear how to selectively target them without compromising normal tissue homeostasis. We evaluated a strategy that targets the cell surface leucine-rich repeat–containing G protein–coupled receptor 5 (LGR5), a well-characterized tissue stem cell and CSC marker, with an antibody conjugated to distinct cytotoxic drugs. One antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) demonstrated potent tumor efficacy and safety in vivo. Furthermore, the ADC decreased tumor size and proliferation, translating to improved survival in a genetically engineered model of intestinal tumorigenesis. These data demonstrate that ADCs can be leveraged to exploit differences between normal and cancer stem cells to successfully target gastrointestinal cancers.

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