Identification of anti-tumour biologics using primary tumour models, 3-D phenotypic screening and image-based multi-parametric profiling

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Background: Monolayer cultures of immortalised cell lines are a popular screening tool for novel anti-cancer therapeutics, but these methods can be a poor surrogate for disease states, and there is a need for drug screening platforms which are more predictive of clinical outcome. In this study, we describe a phenotypic antibody screen using three-dimensional cultures of primary cells, and image-based multi-parametric profiling in PC-3 cells, to identify anti-cancer biologics against new therapeutic targets. Methods: ScFv Antibodies and designed ankyrin repeat proteins (DARPins) were isolated using phage display selections against primary non-small cell lung carcinoma cells. The selected molecules were screened for anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic activity against primary cells grown in three-dimensional culture, and in an ultra-high content screen on a 3-D cultured cell line using multi-parametric profiling to detect treatment-induced phenotypic changes. The targets of molecules of interest were identified using a cell-surface membrane protein array. An anti-CUB domain containing protein 1 (CDCP1) antibody was tested for tumour growth inhibition in a patient-derived xenograft model, generated from a stage-IV non-small cell lung carcinoma, with and without cisplatin. Results: Two primary non-small cell lung carcinoma cell models were established for antibody isolation and primary screening in anti-proliferative and apoptosis assays. These assays identified multiple antibodies demonstrating activity in specific culture formats. A subset of the DARPins was profiled in an ultra-high content multi-parametric screen, where 300 morphological features were measured per sample. Machine learning was used to select features to classify treatment responses, then antibodies were characterised based on the phenotypes that they induced. This method co-classified several DARPins that targeted CDCP1 into two sets with different phenotypes. Finally, an anti-CDCP1 antibody significantly enhanced the efficacy of cisplatin in a patient-derived NSCLC xenograft model. Conclusions: Phenotypic profiling using complex 3-D cell cultures steers hit selection towards more relevant in vivo phenotypes, and may shed light on subtle mechanistic variations in drug candidates, enabling data-driven decisions for oncology target validation. CDCP1 was identified as a potential target for cisplatin combination therapy.




Sandercock, A. M., Rust, S., Guillard, S., Sachsenmeier, K. F., Holoweckyj, N., Hay, C., … Minter, R. (2015). Identification of anti-tumour biologics using primary tumour models, 3-D phenotypic screening and image-based multi-parametric profiling. Molecular Cancer, 14(1).

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