The frequent dysregulation of SRC family kinases (SFK) in multiple cancers prompted various inhibitors to be actively tested in preclinical and clinical trials. Disappointingly, dasatinib and saracatinib failed to demonstrate monotherapeutic efficacy in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCC). Deeper functional and mechanistic knowledge of the actions of these drugs is therefore needed to improve clinical outcome and to develop more efficient combinational strategies. Even though the SFK inhibitors dasatinib and saracatinib robustly blocked cell migration and invasion in HNSCC cell lines, this study unveils undesirable stem cell-promoting functions that could explain the lack of clinical efficacy in HNSCC patients. These deleterious effects were targeted by the mithramycin analog EC-8042 that efficiently eliminated cancer stem cells (CSC)-enriched tumorsphere cultures as well as tumor bulk cells and demonstrated potent antitumor activity in vivo. Furthermore, combination treatment of dasatinib with EC-8042 provided favorable complementary anti-proliferative, anti-invasive, and anti-CSC functions without any noticeable adverse interactions of both agents. These findings strongly support combinational strategies with EC-8042 for clinical testing in HNSCC patients. These data may have implications on ongoing dasatinib-based trials.
Keywords: EC-8042; SRC; cancer stem cells; dasatinib; head and neck squamous cell carcinoma; saracatinib.