Wnt Drug Discovery: Weaving Through the Screens, Patents and Clinical Trials

Cancers (Basel). 2016 Sep 1;8(9):82. doi: 10.3390/cancers8090082.


The Wnt signaling pathway is intricately involved in many aspects of development and is the root cause of an increasing number of diseases. For example, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in the industrialized world and aberration of Wnt signaling within the colonic stem cell is the cause of more than 90% of these cancers. Despite our advances in successfully targeting other pathways, such as Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 (HER2), there are no clinically relevant therapies available for Wnt-related diseases. Here, we investigated where research activities are focused with respect to Wnt signaling modulators by searching the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) for patents and patent applications related to Wnt modulators and compared this to clinical trials focusing on Wnt modulation. We found that while the transition of intellectual property surrounding the Wnt ligand-receptor interface to clinical trials is robust, this is not true for specific inhibitors of β-catenin, which is constitutively active in many cancers. Considering the ubiquitous use of the synthetic T-cell Factor/Lymphoid Enhancer Factor (TCF/Lef) reporter system and its success in identifying novel modulators in vitro, we speculate that this model of drug discovery does not capture the complexity of in vivo Wnt signaling that may be required if we are to successfully target the Wnt pathway in the clinic. Notwithstanding, increasingly more complex models are being developed, which may not be high throughput, but more pragmatic in our pursuit to control Wnt signaling.

Keywords: HEK293; SUPERTOPFlash; TOPflash; Wnt; cancer; clinical trials; inhibitors; patents; screen; β-catenin.

Publication types

  • Review