Like classical chemotherapy regimens used to treat cancer, targeted therapies will also rely upon polypharmacology, but tools are still lacking to predict which combinations of molecularly targeted drugs may be most efficacious. In this study, we used image-based proliferation and apoptosis assays in colorectal cancer cell lines to systematically investigate the efficacy of combinations of two to six drugs that target critical oncogenic pathways. Drug pairs targeting key signaling pathways resulted in synergies across a broad spectrum of genetic backgrounds but often yielded only cytostatic responses. Enhanced cytotoxicity was observed when additional processes including apoptosis and cell cycle were targeted as part of the combination. In some cases, where cell lines were resistant to paired and tripled drugs, increased expression of antiapoptotic proteins was observed, requiring a fourth-order combination to induce cytotoxicity. Our results illustrate how high-order drug combinations are needed to kill drug-resistant cancer cells, and they also show how systematic drug combination screening together with a molecular understanding of drug responses may help define optimal cocktails to overcome aggressive cancers. Cancer Res; 76(23); 6950–63. ©2016 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Cancer Research Online (http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received December 15, 2015.
- Revision received June 26, 2016.
- Accepted August 2, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.