Childhood Cancer

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Targeting Oncogenic RAS in Pediatric Leukemia

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Loren Walensky, MD/PhD
Grant Type: 
Innovation Grants
Year Awarded: 
Type of Childhood Cancer: 
Leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML)
Project Description: 

One of the most deadly but un-drugged cancer-causing proteins is called RAS. RAS mutations are present in approximately 20% of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), 25% of juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), and up to 50% of pediatric mixed lineage leukemia (MLL-ALL). Pediatric leukemias bearing RAS mutations are typically associated with resistance to cancer treatment and reduced overall survival. Therefore, new insights into the mechanisms of RAS regulation are urgently needed in order to guide drug development strategies. We have developed “stapled peptides” modeled after a protein domain that interacts with RAS proteins and discovered that our compounds can directly inhibit RAS by a new mechanism. In addition to dissociating a helper protein, called SOS1, from RAS, we surprisingly found that our stapled peptides can block RAS directly. 

Project Goal
The purpose of this research is to apply chemical, structural and biological approaches to characterize this new mechanism of RAS blockade and, in doing so, advance a new therapeutic strategy for pediatric leukemia that overcomes RAS-driven treatment resistance.

Project Update - June 2020
This year, we harnessed our experience in structured-peptide design to generate libraries of SAH-SOS1 peptides and put them to the test in a series of functional assays, including advancing early hits to pediatric leukemia cell testing with encouraging results. We look forward to building on this year’s success by advancing the proposed mechanistic, structural and efficacy studies, with the overarching goal of delivering a new strategy to neutralize RAS in pediatric leukemias.

Co-funded by: 
Cure4Cam Childhood Cancer Foundation