Defining principles of combination drug mechanisms of action

Justin R. Pritchard, Peter M. Bruno, Luke A. Gilberta, Kelsey L. Caprona, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Michael T. Hemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Combination chemotherapies have been a mainstay in the treatment of disseminated malignancies for almost 60 y, yet even successful regimens fail to cure many patients. Although their singledrug components are well studied, the mechanisms by which drugs work together in clinical combination regimens are poorly understood. Here, we combine RNAi-based functional signatures with complementary informatics tools to examine drug combinations. This approach seeks to bring to combination therapy what the knowledge of biochemical targets has brought to single-drug therapy and creates a statistical and experimental definition of "combination drug mechanisms of action." We show that certain synergistic drug combinations may act as a more potent version of a single drug. Conversely, unlike these highly synergistic combinations, most drugs average extant single-drug variations in therapeutic response. When combined to form multidrug regimens, averaging combinations form averaging regimens that homogenize genetic variation in mouse models of cancer and in clinical genomics datasets. We suggest surprisingly simple and predictable combination mechanisms of action that are independent of biochemical mechanism and have implications for biomarker discovery as well as for the development of regimens with defined genetic dependencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E170-E179
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 8 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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