Whilst many research groups are studying
Myc, there have been major barriers to
inhibiting the onco-protein, in addition to the
potentially harmful effects on patients.
Soucek explained more: “Myc is located
inside the nucleus of a cell, and that is usually
considered an area where we are unable to
send any inhibitor. Furthermore, many drugs
currently used in the clinic are small
molecules that target active or catalytic sites
in enzymes or kinases. Instead, Myc is a
transcription factor, and does not have such a
site that can be inhibited.
“Another reason is that Myc is not just one
protein, it’s a family of proteins and these
proteins can replace each other in some
situations. Consequently, whatever inhibitor we
choose to use, it needs to be able to inhibit
them all, adding another complication.
“Finally, Myc is also required for some critical
physiological processes, and consequently the
dogma has been that inhibiting Myc would cause
catastrophic side effects in normal cells and
tissues; hence Myc has long been considered an
untouchable, ‘undruggable’ protein.”
The ERC-funded researcher then detailed her
successful creation of a Myc inhibitor and some
subsequent experiments undertaken.
“During my time as a student, almost 20 years
ago, I designed a Myc inhibitor. This Myc
inhibitor is called Omomyc, and we first used it
in cancer cells in culture and saw that it was
very efficient at inhibiting Myc.
“As a result, we undertook an assessment to
see whether the inhibitor would be safe. After
moving from Italy to the United States, I
undertook research on cancer mouse models.
It was there we were able to test the inhibitor
acked by the European Research Council, a major
investigation is underway in Spain that has the potential to
develop a treatment for many human cancers. The project
‘Pushing Myc inhibition towards the clinic’, or MYCINHIBINCLINIC,
is funded by a five-year €1.7m Consolidator Grant awarded in 2013
to Dr Laura Soucek at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO)
in Barcelona, Spain.
To find out more about the project, Portal spoke to Soucek, who outlined
the background to studying the onco-protein Myc, the creation of an
inhibitor, and the wide-ranging benefits that could be brought to
patients. The researcher began by outlining the core emphasis of the
“The focus of this project is Myc, an onco-protein that is upregulated or
deregulated in the majority of human cancers. Myc is a master regulator
of several cellular functions, that is to say, it controls all the programmes
that instruct the cell to grow and divide.
“Normally, Myc’s regulation is very finely tuned – the Myc protein gets
turned on only when it’s needed, and then gets turned off when its task
is over. For example, Myc is only expressed when a tissue needs to
regenerate or grow, or in the case of healing a wound.
“However, in cancer, the Myc protein is deregulated and is never turned
off. Therefore, it keeps instructing the cells to divide, leading to
tumourigenesis. The aim of this ERC project is to find an efficient and
safe way to inhibit Myc.”
I S S U E S E V E N
H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA Lwww.horizon2020projects.com
C A N C E R & C A R D I O V A S C U L A R D I S E A S E
Following an unexpected breakthrough concerning a Myc inhibitor,
spoke to ERC-funded scientist
Dr Laura Soucek
about the dramatic potential
in tackling cancer and the subsequent development of a drug
Dr Laura Soucek
Structure of the c-Myc
(red) in complex with
Max (blue) and DNA