Introduction: Primary drug resistance is one of the principal limiting factors to achieving cures in patients with cancer. Drug repositioning is the application of FDA-approved drug compounds for novel indications beyond the scope of the drug’s original intended use. One approach for computational drug repositioning involves generating a disease gene expression signature and then identifying a drug that can reverse this disease signature. In this study, we extracted drug resistance signatures from the I-SPY 2 TRIAL by comparing gene expression profiles of responder and non-responder patients stratified by treatment and molecular subtype. We then applied our drug repositioning pipeline to predict compounds that can reverse these signatures. We hypothesize that reversing these drug resistance signatures will resensitize tumors to treatment and improve patient outcome.
Methods: We extracted drug resistance signatures by identifying differentially expressed genes between responders (RCB 0/I) and non-responders (RCB III) within treatment arms and molecular subtypes. We selected the log fold-change cutoff for each signature by identifying the cutoff that best separates the responder and non-responder samples using k-means clustering. We then applied our drug repositioning pipeline to identify compounds that significantly reverse these signatures using the drug perturbation profiles in the Connectivity Map v2 dataset. Briefly, the pipeline uses a non- parametric, rank-based pattern-matching strategy based on the Kolmogorov-Smirnov (KS) statistic to assess the enrichment of resistance genes in a ranked drug gene expression list. Significance of each prediction is estimated from a null distribution of scores generated from random gene signatures.
Results: We found that few individual genes are shared among the resistance signatures across the treatment arms and molecular subtypes. At the pathway-level, however, we found that immune-related pathways are generally enriched among the responders and estrogen-response pathways are generally enriched among the non-responders. Although most of our drug predictions are unique to treatment arms and molecular subtypes, our drug repositioning pipeline identified the selective estrogen receptor degrader (SERD) fulvestrant as a compound that can potentially reverse resistance across a majority of the treatment arms and molecular subtypes.
Conclusion: We applied our drug repositioning pipeline to identify novel agents to sensitize drug-resistant tumors in the I-SPY 2+ clinical trial and identified a SERD, fulvestrant, as a potential candidate for multiple molecular subtypes and treatment arms.