A Patient-to-Model-to-Patient (PMP) Cancer Drug Discovery Protocol for Identifying and Validating Therapeutic Agents Targeting Tumor Regulatory Architecture

Curr Protoc. 2022 Sep;2(9):e544. doi: 10.1002/cpz1.544.


The current Achilles heel of cancer drug discovery is the inability to forge precise and predictive connections among mechanistic drivers of the cancer cell state, therapeutically significant molecular targets, effective drugs, and responsive patient subgroups. Although advances in molecular biology have helped identify molecular markers and stratify patients into molecular subtypes, these associational strategies typically fail to provide a mechanistic rationale to identify cancer vulnerabilities. Recently, integrative systems biology methodologies have been used to reverse engineer cellular networks and identify master regulators (MRs), proteins whose activity is both necessary and sufficient to implement phenotypic states under physiological and pathological conditions, which are organized into highly interconnected regulatory modules called tumor checkpoints. Because of their functional relevance, MRs represent ideal pharmacological targets and biomarkers. Here, we present a six-step patient-to-model-to-patient protocol that employs computational and experimental methodologies to reconstruct and interrogate the regulatory logic of human cancer cells for identifying and therapeutically targeting the tumor checkpoint with novel as well as existing pharmacological agents. This protocol systematically identifies, from specific patient tumor samples, the MRs that comprise the tumor checkpoint. Then, it identifies in vitro and in vivo models that, by recapitulating the patient's tumor checkpoint, constitute the appropriate cell lines and xenografts to further elucidate the tissue context-specific drug mechanism of action (MOA) and permit precise, biomarker-based preclinical validations of drug efficacy. The combination of determination of a drug's context-specific MOA and precise identification of patients' tumor checkpoints provides a personalized, mechanism-based biomarker to enrich prospective clinical trials with patients likely to respond. © 2022 The Authors. Current Protocols published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.

Keywords: biomarkers; cancer; drug discovery; regulatory networks; systems pharmacology.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Biomarkers
  • Drug Discovery
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Prospective Studies


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers