Research Papers:

Inhibition of FAK kinase activity preferentially targets cancer stem cells

Vihren N. Kolev, Winnie F. Tam, Quentin G. Wright, Sean P. McDermott, Christian M. Vidal, Irina M. Shapiro, Qunli Xu, Max S. Wicha, Jonathan A. Pachter and David T. Weaver _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:51733-51747. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.18517

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Vihren N. Kolev1, Winnie F. Tam1, Quentin G. Wright1, Sean P. McDermott2, Christian M. Vidal1, Irina M. Shapiro1, Qunli Xu1, Max S. Wicha2, Jonathan A. Pachter1 and David T. Weaver1

1Verastem, Inc., Needham, MA, USA

2Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Correspondence to:

David T. Weaver, email: [email protected]

Jonathan A. Pachter, email: [email protected]

Keywords: cancer stem cells, FAK, focal adhesion kinase, VS-4718, VS-6063

Received: February 02, 2017     Accepted: May 06, 2017     Published: June 16, 2017


Because cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been implicated in chemo-resistance, metastasis and tumor recurrence, therapeutic targeting of CSCs holds promise to address these clinical challenges to cancer treatment. VS-4718 and VS-6063 are potent inhibitors of focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a non-receptor tyrosine kinase that mediates cell signals transmitted by integrins and growth factor receptors. We report here that inhibition of FAK kinase activity by VS-4718 or VS-6063 preferentially targets CSCs, as demonstrated by a panel of orthogonal CSC assays in cell line models and surgically resected primary breast tumor specimens cultured ex vivo. Oral administration of VS-4718 or VS-6063 to mice bearing xenograft models of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) significantly reduced the proportion of CSCs in the tumors, as evidenced by a reduced tumor-initiating capability upon re-implantation in limiting dilutions of cells prepared from these tumors. In contrast, the cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents, paclitaxel and carboplatin, enriched for CSCs, consistent with previous reports that these cytotoxic agents preferentially target non-CSCs. Importantly, VS-4718 and VS-6063 attenuated the chemotherapy-induced enrichment of CSCs in vitro and delayed tumor regrowth following cessation of chemotherapy. An intriguing crosstalk between FAK and the Wnt/β-catenin pathway was revealed wherein FAK inhibition blocks β-catenin activation by reducing tyrosine 654 phosphorylation of β-catenin. Furthermore, a constitutively active mutant form of β-catenin reversed the preferential targeting of CSCs by FAK inhibition, suggesting that this targeting is mediated, at least in part, through attenuating β-catenin activation. The preferential targeting of cancer stem cells by FAK inhibitors provides a rationale for the clinical development of FAK inhibitors aimed to increase durable responses for cancer patients.

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