Suppression of cancer relapse and metastasis by inhibiting cancer stemness

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 10;112(6):1839-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1424171112. Epub 2015 Jan 20.


Partial or even complete cancer regression can be achieved in some patients with current cancer treatments. However, such initial responses are almost always followed by relapse, with the recurrent cancer being resistant to further treatments. The discovery of therapeutic approaches that counteract relapse is, therefore, essential for advancing cancer medicine. Cancer cells are extremely heterogeneous, even in each individual patient, in terms of their malignant potential, drug sensitivity, and their potential to metastasize and cause relapse. Indeed, hypermalignant cancer cells, termed cancer stem cells or stemness-high cancer cells, that are highly tumorigenic and metastatic have been isolated from cancer patients with a variety of tumor types. Moreover, such stemness-high cancer cells are resistant to conventional chemotherapy and radiation. Here we show that BBI608, a small molecule identified by its ability to inhibit gene transcription driven by Stat3 and cancer stemness properties, can inhibit stemness gene expression and block spherogenesis of or kill stemness-high cancer cells isolated from a variety of cancer types. Moreover, cancer relapse and metastasis were effectively blocked by BBI608 in mice. These data demonstrate targeting cancer stemness as a novel approach to develop the next generation of cancer therapeutics to suppress cancer relapse and metastasis.

Keywords: BBI608; cancer stemness; relapse.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Benzofurans / adverse effects
  • Benzofurans / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Heterografts
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Mice
  • Naphthoquinones / adverse effects
  • Naphthoquinones / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / prevention & control*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Secondary Prevention / methods*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzofurans
  • Naphthoquinones
  • napabucasin