Three Attack Strategies
Investigations currently in progress target cancer stem cells using one of three approaches: small molecules, mAbs, or vaccines. Small molecule therapies work by perturbing the signaling pathway of cancer stem cells to put brakes on tumorogenesis. mAbs, on the other hand, are focused on recognizing certain markers that are highly expressed on CSCs but not on normal cells or normal stem cells. Lastly, active immunotherapy utilizes the native immune system to recognize and destroy cancer stem cells while leaving normal cells intact. While a few companies have been started de novo to focus on these programs, a number of existing compounds are also being tested for their effect on cancer stem cells.
Our understanding of stem cells is in its infancy today, but there can be no doubt about their potential to solve some of the most complicated health problems in both regenerative medicine as well as cancer. Regenerative medicine is much more complicated due to several stages of development that the stem cells have to undergo to regenerate tissue. However, it may be easier to find therapeutic application in cancer, where the goal is to capture and destroy these tumor-initiating stem cells. Based on several encouraging clinical and preclinical studies combined with significant interest from large pharma to acquire these early-stage assets even before they enter the clinic, a bright future may be in store for cancer stem cell therapies.