Optimized low-dose combinatorial drug treatment boosts selectivity and efficacy of colorectal carcinoma treatment

Mol Oncol. 2020 Nov;14(11):2894-2919. doi: 10.1002/1878-0261.12797. Epub 2020 Oct 5.


The current standard of care for colorectal cancer (CRC) is a combination of chemotherapeutics, often supplemented with targeted biological drugs. An urgent need exists for improved drug efficacy and minimized side effects, especially at late-stage disease. We employed the phenotypically driven therapeutically guided multidrug optimization (TGMO) technology to identify optimized drug combinations (ODCs) in CRC. We identified low-dose synergistic and selective ODCs for a panel of six human CRC cell lines also active in heterotypic 3D co-culture models. Transcriptome sequencing and phosphoproteome analyses showed that the mechanisms of action of these ODCs converged toward MAP kinase signaling and cell cycle inhibition. Two cell-specific ODCs were translated to in vivo mouse models. The ODCs reduced tumor growth by ~80%, outperforming standard chemotherapy (FOLFOX). No toxicity was observed for the ODCs, while significant side effects were induced in the group treated with FOLFOX therapy. Identified ODCs demonstrated significantly enhanced bioavailability of the individual components. Finally, ODCs were also active in primary cells from CRC patient tumor tissues. Taken together, we show that the TGMO technology efficiently identifies selective and potent low-dose drug combinations, optimized regardless of tumor mutation status, outperforming conventional chemotherapy.

Keywords: colorectal carcinoma; combination treatment; drug-drug interactions; drug-target interactions; phosphoproteomics; synergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Transcriptome / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome