Researchers from Queen's University, Belfast, have discovered that blocking a certain molecule could help side-step resistance to cetuximab in bowel cancer patients.

According to the findings, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, some bowel cancer cells survived cetuximab (Merck's Erbitux) by increasing the activity of a protein called ADAM17.

The research, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, shows that giving patients a drug that blocked ADAM17 at the same time as cetuximab resulted in the death of cancer cells that utilised this particularly pathway to fight treatment.

"While some bowel cancer patients respond well to cetuximab treatment, many will relapse, or not benefit from the drug. Our work shows that combining this treatment with an ADAM17 inhibitor could be a promising avenue of therapy for patients who don't respond to cetuximab by itself," said Dr Sandra Van Schaeybroeck, lead researcher on the study.

"More work is needed before we can safely test this combination in patients, but the prospect of cutting off cancer's path to resistance is very exciting."

"A big issue facing bowel cancer patients is the prospect of their cancer coming back. Understanding the mechanisms that bowel cancer cells use to evade treatment with cetuximab will help us find ways to delay or prevent it recurring. This will help more people with bowel cancer live longer and with better quality of life," added Professor Richard Wilson, chair of the NCRI's Colorectal Cancer Clinical Studies Group.