Converting Cancer Therapies Into Cures: Lessons From Infectious Diseases

Cell. 2012 Mar 16;148(6):1089-98. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.02.015.


During the past decade, cancer drug development has shifted from a focus on cytotoxic chemotherapies to drugs that target specific molecular alterations in tumors. Although these drugs dramatically shrink tumors, the responses are temporary. Research is now focused on overcoming drug resistance, a frequent cause of treatment failure. Here we reflect on analogous challenges faced by researchers in infectious diseases. We compare and contrast the resistance mechanisms arising in cancer and infectious diseases and discuss how approaches for overcoming viral and bacterial infections, such as HIV and tuberculosis, are instructive for developing a more rational approach for cancer therapy. In particular, maximizing the effect of the initial treatment response, which often requires synergistic combination therapy, is foremost among these approaches. A remaining challenge in both fields is identifying drugs that eliminate drug-tolerant "persister" cells (infectious disease) or tumor-initiating/stem cells (cancer) to prevent late relapse and shorten treatment duration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Failure
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy


  • Antineoplastic Agents