Development of the Bowman-Birk inhibitor for oral cancer chemoprevention and analysis of Neu immunohistochemical staining intensity with Bowman-Birk inhibitor concentrate treatment

Laryngoscope. 2003 Oct;113(10):1687-702. doi: 10.1097/00005537-200310000-00007.


Objectives/hypothesis: Cancer chemoprevention is a rapidly evolving approach to reverse or inhibit carcinogenesis, and there is active interest in development of effective chemopreventive agents against head and neck cancers. The retinoids are archetypal chemopreventive agents for oral premalignant lesions. They have significant clinical effect, but widespread use is limited by significant clinical toxicity. The Bowman-Birk Inhibitor is one of several nontoxic compounds exhibiting both potent anticarcinogenic activity and minimal toxicity. The purposes of the study were to summarize the preclinical and clinical development of Bowman-Birk Inhibitor and a Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate against oral premalignant lesions and to evaluate Neu immunohistochemical staining intensity for lesions and simultaneously obtained biopsy specimens of normal-appearing mucosa from the Phase IIa Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate oral leukoplakia chemoprevention trial.

Study design: Part I is a selected literature review. Part II is a retrospective analysis of pathological specimens prospectively obtained from the Phase IIa clinical trial of Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate.

Methods: Thirty-two sets of biopsy specimens from lesions and uninvolved oral mucosa before and after treatment with Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate in doses ranging from 200 to 1066 chymotrypsin inhibitory units were examined in blinded fashion for Neu immunohistochemical staining intensity using the 3B-5 monoclonal antibody. Staining intensity scores among the lesion and control biopsy specimens before and after Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment were analyzed and compared with previously obtained values for serum Neu, oral mucosal cell Neu, protease activity, and clinical response to treatment.

Results: Mean Neu staining score was significantly higher in lesions compared with uninvolved mucosa (P <.001). Pretreatment staining scores for biopsy specimens of lesions and control biopsy specimens of normal-appearing tissues were correlated (Spearman correlation coefficient [r] = 0.375, P =.045), but no correlation between lesion and control biopsy specimen scores was evident after treatment. The change in Neu staining score with Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment in control site biopsy specimens demonstrated an inverse relationship of change in lesion area with Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment (Spearman r = -0.493, P <.007).

Conclusion: Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate shows promise to become an effective nontoxic chemopreventive agent based on results of extensive preclinical studies, and Phase I and Phase IIa clinical trials. Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate has dose-related clinical activity against oral leukoplakia and modulates levels of Neu and protease activity. The current investigation identified increased Neu staining intensity in hyperplastic lesions compared with simultaneously obtained biopsy specimens of normal-appearing mucosa both before and after Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment. This finding supports prior observations that increased Neu expression is present in a subset of oral premalignant lesions and head and neck cancers. The trend of increased Neu staining score in control biopsy tissues of subjects exhibiting decreased lesion area following Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment raises questions about the mechanisms of Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate action. One possible explanation is that Bowman-Birk Inhibitor stabilizes the extracellular domain of Neu, thereby preventing receptor truncation and internalization. Further study of modulation of Neu and protease activity by Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate treatment may provide insights into the role of proteases and protease inhibitors in oral premalignant lesions and the mechanisms underlying Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate effects. A Phase IIb randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to determine the clinical effectiveness of Bowman-Birk Inhibitor concentrate and further evaluate these candidate biomarkers is under way.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Chemoprevention
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Leukoplakia, Oral / drug therapy
  • Leukoplakia, Oral / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / therapeutic use*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism
  • Trypsin Inhibitor, Bowman-Birk Soybean / therapeutic use*
  • Trypsin Inhibitors
  • alpha-Amylases / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Plant Proteins
  • Trypsin Inhibitor, Bowman-Birk Soybean
  • Trypsin Inhibitors
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • alpha-Amylases