Slabicki M, Kozicka Z, Petzold G, Li YD, Manojkumar M, Bunker RD, Donovan KA, Sievers QL, Koeppel J, Suchyta D, et al. The CDK inhibitor CR8 acts as a molecular glue degrader that depletes cyclin K. Nature. 2020;585:293-297.

Molecular glue compounds induce protein-protein interactions that, in the context of a ubiquitin ligase, lead to protein degradation(1). Unlike traditional enzyme inhibitors, these molecular glue degraders act substoichiometrically to catalyse the rapid depletion of previously inaccessible targets(2). They are clinically effective and highly sought-after, but have thus far only been discovered serendipitously. Here, through systematically mining databases for correlations between the cytotoxicity of 4,518 clinical and preclinical small molecules and the expression levels of E3 ligase components across hundreds of human cancer cell lines(3-5), we identify CR8-a cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor(6)-as a compound that acts as a molecular glue degrader. The CDK-bound form of CR8 has a solvent-exposed pyridyl moiety that induces the formation of a complex between CDK12-cyclin K and the CUL4 adaptor protein DDB1, bypassing the requirement for a substrate receptor and presenting cyclin K for ubiquitination and degradation. Our studies demonstrate that chemical alteration of surface-exposed moieties can confer gain-of-function glue properties to an inhibitor, and we propose this as a broader strategy through which target-binding molecules could be converted into molecular glues.

Jin X, Demere Z, Nair K, Ali A, Ferraro GB, Natoli T, Deik A, Petronio L, Tang AA, Zhu C, et al. A metastasis map of human cancer cell lines. Nature. 2020;588:331-336.

Most deaths from cancer are explained by metastasis, and yet large-scale metastasis research has been impractical owing to the complexity of in vivo models. Here we introduce an in vivo barcoding strategy that is capable of determining the metastatic potential of human cancer cell lines in mouse xenografts at scale. We validated the robustness, scalability and reproducibility of the method and applied it to 500 cell lines(1,2) spanning 21 types of solid tumour. We created a first-generation metastasis map (MetMap) that reveals organ-specific patterns of metastasis, enabling these patterns to be associated with clinical and genomic features. We demonstrate the utility of MetMap by investigating the molecular basis of breast cancers capable of metastasizing to the brain-a principal cause of death in patients with this type of cancer. Breast cancers capable of metastasizing to the brain showed evidence of altered lipid metabolism. Perturbation of lipid metabolism in these cells curbed brain metastasis development, suggesting a therapeutic strategy to combat the disease and demonstrating the utility of MetMap as a resource to support metastasis research.

Neggers JE, Paolella BR, Asfaw A, Rothberg MV, Skipper TA, Yang A, Kalekar RL, Krill-Burger JM, Dharia NV, Kugener G, et al. Synthetic Lethal Interaction between the ESCRT Paralog Enzymes VPS4A and VPS4B in Cancers Harboring Loss of Chromosome 18q or 16q. Cell Rep. 2020;33:108493.

Few therapies target the loss of tumor suppressor genes in cancer. We examine CRISPR-SpCas9 and RNA-interference loss-of-function screens to identify new therapeutic targets associated with genomic loss of tumor suppressor genes. The endosomal sorting complexes required for transport (ESCRT) ATPases VPS4A and VPS4B score as strong synthetic lethal dependencies. VPS4A is essential in cancers harboring loss of VPS4B adjacent to SMAD4 on chromosome 18q and VPS4B is required in tumors with co-deletion of VPS4A and CDH1 (E-cadherin) on chromosome 16q. We demonstrate that more than 30% of cancers selectively require VPS4A or VPS4B. VPS4A suppression in VPS4B-deficient cells selectively leads to ESCRT-III filament accumulation, cytokinesis defects, nuclear deformation, G2/M arrest, apoptosis, and potent tumor regression. CRISPR-SpCas9 screening and integrative genomic analysis reveal other ESCRT members, regulators of abscission, and interferon signaling as modifiers of VPS4A dependency. We describe a compendium of synthetic lethal vulnerabilities and nominate VPS4A and VPS4B as high-priority therapeutic targets for cancers with 18q or 16q loss.

Corsello SM, Nagari RT, Spangler RD, Rossen J, Kocak M, Bryan JG, Humeidi R, Peck D, Wu X, Tang AA, et al. Discovering the anti-cancer potential of non-oncology drugs by systematic viability profiling. Nat Cancer. 2020;1:235-248.

Anti-cancer uses of non-oncology drugs have occasionally been found, but such discoveries have been serendipitous. We sought to create a public resource containing the growth inhibitory activity of 4,518 drugs tested across 578 human cancer cell lines. We used PRISM, a molecular barcoding method, to screen drugs against cell lines in pools. An unexpectedly large number of non-oncology drugs selectively inhibited subsets of cancer cell lines in a manner predictable from the cell lines' molecular features. Our findings include compounds that killed by inducing PDE3A-SLFN12 complex formation; vanadium-containing compounds whose killing depended on the sulfate transporter SLC26A2; the alcohol dependence drug disulfiram, which killed cells with low expression of metallothioneins; and the anti-inflammatory drug tepoxalin, which killed via the multi-drug resistance protein ABCB1. The PRISM drug repurposing resource ( is a starting point to develop new oncology therapeutics, and more rarely, for potential direct clinical translation.

Enache OM, Rendo V, Abdusamad M, Lam D, Davison D, Pal S, Currimjee N, Hess J, Pantel S, Nag A, et al. Cas9 activates the p53 pathway and selects for p53-inactivating mutations. Nat Genet. 2020;52:662-668.
Cas9 is commonly introduced into cell lines to enable CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing. Here, we studied the genetic and transcriptional consequences of Cas9 expression itself. Gene expression profiling of 165 pairs of human cancer cell lines and their Cas9-expressing derivatives revealed upregulation of the p53 pathway upon introduction of Cas9, specifically in wild-type TP53 (TP53-WT) cell lines. This was confirmed at the messenger RNA and protein levels. Moreover, elevated levels of DNA repair were observed in Cas9-expressing cell lines. Genetic characterization of 42 cell line pairs showed that introduction of Cas9 can lead to the emergence and expansion of p53-inactivating mutations. This was confirmed by competition experiments in isogenic TP53-WT and TP53-null (TP53(-/-)) cell lines. Lastly, Cas9 was less active in TP53-WT than in TP53-mutant cell lines, and Cas9-induced p53 pathway activation affected cellular sensitivity to both genetic and chemical perturbations. These findings may have broad implications for the proper use of CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing.
Painter CA, Jain E, Tomson BN, Dunphy M, Stoddard RE, Thomas BS, Damon AL, Shah S, Kim D, Gomez Tejeda Zanudo J, et al. The Angiosarcoma Project: enabling genomic and clinical discoveries in a rare cancer through patient-partnered research. Nat Med. 2020;26:181-187.
Despite rare cancers accounting for 25% of adult tumors(1), they are difficult to study due to the low disease incidence and geographically dispersed patient populations, which has resulted in significant unmet clinical needs for patients with rare cancers. We assessed whether a patient-partnered research approach using online engagement can overcome these challenges, focusing on angiosarcoma, a sarcoma with an annual incidence of 300 cases in the United States. Here we describe the development of the Angiosarcoma Project (ASCproject), an initiative enabling US and Canadian patients to remotely share their clinical information and biospecimens for research. The project generates and publicly releases clinically annotated genomic data on tumor and germline specimens on an ongoing basis. Over 18 months, 338 patients registered for the ASCproject, which comprises a large proportion of all patients with angiosarcoma. Whole-exome sequencing (WES) of 47 tumors revealed recurrently mutated genes that included KDR, TP53, and PIK3CA. PIK3CA-activating mutations were observed predominantly in primary breast angiosarcoma, which suggested a therapeutic rationale. Angiosarcoma of the head, neck, face and scalp (HNFS) was associated with a high tumor mutation burden (TMB) and a dominant ultraviolet damage mutational signature, which suggested that for the subset of patients with angiosarcoma of HNFS, ultraviolet damage may be a causative factor and that immune checkpoint inhibition may be beneficial. Medical record review revealed that two patients with HNFS angiosarcoma had received off-label therapeutic use of antibody to the programmed death-1 protein (anti-PD-1) and had experienced exceptional responses, which highlights immune checkpoint inhibition as a therapeutic avenue for HNFS angiosarcoma. This patient-partnered approach has catalyzed an opportunity to discover the etiology and potential therapies for patients with angiosarcoma. Collectively, this proof-of-concept study demonstrates that empowering patients to directly participate in research can overcome barriers in rare diseases and can enable discoveries.


Tsvetkov P, Detappe A, Cai K, Keys HR, Brune Z, Ying W, Thiru P, Reidy M, Kugener G, Rossen J, et al. Mitochondrial metabolism promotes adaptation to proteotoxic stress. Nat Chem Biol. 2019;15:681-689.
The mechanisms by which cells adapt to proteotoxic stress are largely unknown, but are key to understanding how tumor cells, particularly in vivo, are largely resistant to proteasome inhibitors. Analysis of cancer cell lines, mouse xenografts and patient-derived tumor samples all showed an association between mitochondrial metabolism and proteasome inhibitor sensitivity. When cells were forced to use oxidative phosphorylation rather than glycolysis, they became proteasome-inhibitor resistant. This mitochondrial state, however, creates a unique vulnerability: sensitivity to the small molecule compound elesclomol. Genome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 screening showed that a single gene, encoding the mitochondrial reductase FDX1, could rescue elesclomol-induced cell death. Enzymatic function and nuclear-magnetic-resonance-based analyses further showed that FDX1 is the direct target of elesclomol, which promotes a unique form of copper-dependent cell death. These studies explain a fundamental mechanism by which cells adapt to proteotoxic stress and suggest strategies to mitigate proteasome inhibitor resistance.