MEDI3039, a novel highly potent tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) receptor 2 agonist, causes regression of orthotopic tumors and inhibits outgrowth of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res. 2019 Feb 18;21(1):27. doi: 10.1186/s13058-019-1116-1.


Background: TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) receptor agonists are attractive anti-tumor agents because of their capability to induce apoptosis in cancer cells by activating death receptors (DR) 4 and 5 with little toxicity against normal cells. Despite an attractive mechanism of action, previous clinical efforts to use TRAIL receptor agonists have been unsuccessful. In this study, we examined MEDI3039, a highly potent multivalent DR5 agonist, in breast cancer cell lines and in vivo models.

Methods: As in vitro model systems, we used 19 breast cancer cell lines that are categorized into four subtypes: ER+, HER2 amplified, basal A (triple-negative breast cancer) TNBC, and basal B TNBC. Cell viability was analyzed by MTS and RealTime live/dead assays. As in vivo model systems, MDA-MB231T orthotopic primary tumor growth in the mammary fat pad (MFP) and two experimental lung metastasis models were used. The effect of MEDI3039 on MFP tumors was assessed with immunohistochemical analysis. Lung metastases were analyzed with Bouin's and H&E staining.

Results: MEDI3039 killed multiple breast cancer cell lines, but the sensitivity varied among different subtypes. Sensitivity was basal B TNBC >> basal A TNBC > HER2 amplified > ER+ (average IC50 = 1.4, 203, 314, 403 pM, respectively). While the pattern of relative sensitivity was similar to GST-TRAIL in most cell lines, MEDI3039 was at least two orders of magnitude more potent compared with GST-TRAIL. In the MFP model, weekly treatment with 0.1 or 0.3 mg/kg MEDI3039 for 5 weeks inhibited tumor growth by 99.05% or 100% (median), respectively, compared with the control group, and extended animal survival (p = 0.08 or p = 0.0032 at 0.1 or 0.3 mg/kg, respectively). MEDI3039-induced caspase activation was confirmed in tumors grown in MFP (p < 0.05). In an experimental pulmonary metastasis model, MEDI3039 significantly suppressed outgrowth of surface (p < 0.0001) and microscopic metastases (p < 0.05). In an established lung metastasis model, MEDI3039 significantly inhibited growth of metastases (p < 0.01 in surface [> 4 mm], p < 0.01 in tumor percentage) and extended animal survival (p < 0.0001).

Conclusion: MEDI3039 is a potent DR5 agonist in breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo and has potential as a cancer drug in breast cancer patients, especially those with basal B TNBC.

Keywords: Agonist; Apoptosis; Breast cancer; Death receptor; TRAIL; Triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / agonists*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNFRSF10B protein, human