Uncovering drug repurposing candidates for head and neck cancers: insights from systematic pharmacogenomics data analysis

Sci Rep. 2021 Dec 14;11(1):23933. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-03418-1.


Effective treatment options for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) are currently lacking. We exploited the drug response and genomic data of the 28 HNSCC cell lines, screened with 4,518 compounds, from the PRISM repurposing dataset to uncover repurposing drug candidates for HNSCC. A total of 886 active compounds, comprising of 418 targeted cancer, 404 non-oncology, and 64 chemotherapy compounds were identified for HNSCC. Top classes of mechanism of action amongst targeted cancer compounds included PI3K/AKT/MTOR, EGFR, and HDAC inhibitors. We have shortlisted 36 compounds with enriched killing activities for repurposing in HNSCC. The integrative analysis confirmed that the average expression of EGFR ligands (AREG, EREG, HBEGF, TGFA, and EPGN) is associated with osimertinib sensitivity. Novel putative biomarkers of response including those involved in immune signalling and cell cycle were found to be associated with sensitivity and resistance to MEK inhibitors respectively. We have also developed an RShiny webpage facilitating interactive visualization to fuel further hypothesis generation for drug repurposing in HNSCC. Our study provides a rich reference database of HNSCC drug sensitivity profiles, affording an opportunity to explore potential biomarkers of response in prioritized drug candidates. Our approach could also reveal insights for drug repurposing in other cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Drug Repositioning*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Pharmacogenetics*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck* / drug therapy
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck* / genetics
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck* / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.16443759.v1