Transcriptional drug repositioning and cheminformatics approach for differentiation therapy of leukaemia cells.
Differentiation therapy is attracting increasing interest in cancer as it can be more specific than conventional chemotherapy approaches, and it has offered new treatment options for some cancer types, such as treating acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) by retinoic acid. However, there is a pressing need to identify additional molecules which act in this way, both in leukaemia and other cancer types. In this work, we hence developed a novel transcriptional drug repositioning approach, based on both bioinformatics and cheminformatics components, that enables selecting such compounds in a more informed manner. We have validated the approach for leukaemia cells, and retrospectively retinoic acid was successfully identified using our method. Prospectively, the anti-parasitic compound fenbendazole was tested in leukaemia cells, and we were able to show that it can induce the differentiation of leukaemia cells to granulocytes in low concentrations of 0.1 μM and within as short a time period as 3 days. This work hence provides a systematic and validated approach for identifying small molecules for differentiation therapy in cancer.