James Tsai

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States

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Publications (8)114.22 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The identification of driver oncogenes has provided important targets for drugs that can change the landscape of cancer therapies. One such example is the BRAF oncogene, which is found in about half of all melanomas as well as several other cancers. As a druggable kinase, oncogenic BRAF has become a crucial target of small-molecule drug discovery efforts. Following a rapid clinical development path, vemurafenib (Zelboraf; Plexxikon/Roche) was approved for the treatment of BRAF-mutated metastatic melanoma in the United States in August 2011 and the European Union in February 2012. This Review describes the underlying biology of BRAF, the technology used to identify vemurafenib and its clinical development milestones, along with future prospects based on lessons learned during its development.
    dressNature Reviews Drug Discovery 10/2012; · 33.08 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a common cause of renal failure. Aberrant epithelial cell proliferation is a major cause of progressive cyst enlargement in ADPKD. Since activation of the Ras/Raf signaling system has been detected in cyst-lining epithelia, inhibition of Raf kinase has been proposed as an approach to retard the progression of ADPKD. Methods and results. PLX5568, a novel selective small molecule inhibitor of Raf kinases, attenuated proliferation of human ADPKD cyst epithelial cells. It reduced in vitro cyst growth of Madin-Darby Canine Kidney cells and of human ADPKD cells within a collagen gel. In male cy/+ rats with polycystic kidneys, PLX5568 inhibited renal cyst growth along with a significant reduction in the number of proliferating cell nuclear antigen- and phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase-positive cyst-lining epithelial cells. Furthermore, treated animals showed increased capacity to concentrate urine. However, PLX5568 did not lead to a consistent improvement of renal function. Moreover, although relative cyst volume was decreased, total kidney-to-body weight ratio was not significantly reduced by PLX5568. Further analyses revealed a 2-fold increase of renal and hepatic fibrosis in animals treated with PLX5568. CONCLUSIONS: PLX5568 attenuated cyst enlargement in vitro and in a rat model of ADPKD without improving kidney function, presumably due to increased renal fibrosis. These data suggest that effective therapies for the treatment of ADPKD will need to target fibrosis as well as the growth of cysts.
    Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation 07/2011; 26(11):3458-65. · 3.37 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Targeted intervention of the B-Raf V600E gene product that is prominent in melanoma has been met with modest success. Here, we characterize the pharmacological properties of PLX4032, a next-generation inhibitor with exquisite specificity against the V600E oncogene and striking anti-melanoma activity. PLX4032 induces potent cell cycle arrest, inhibits proliferation, and initiates apoptosis exclusively in V600E-positive cells in a variety of in vitro experimental systems; follow-up xenograft studies demonstrate extreme selectivity and efficacy against melanoma tumors bearing the V600E oncoproduct. The collective data support further exploration of PLX4032 as a candidate drug for patients with metastatic melanoma; accordingly, validation of PLX4032 as a therapeutic tool for patients with melanoma is now underway in advanced human (Phase III) clinical trials.
    Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research 12/2010; 23(6):820-7. · 5.84 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: B-RAF is the most frequently mutated protein kinase in human cancers. The finding that oncogenic mutations in BRAF are common in melanoma, followed by the demonstration that these tumours are dependent on the RAF/MEK/ERK pathway, offered hope that inhibition of B-RAF kinase activity could benefit melanoma patients. Herein, we describe the structure-guided discovery of PLX4032 (RG7204), a potent inhibitor of oncogenic B-RAF kinase activity. Preclinical experiments demonstrated that PLX4032 selectively blocked the RAF/MEK/ERK pathway in BRAF mutant cells and caused regression of BRAF mutant xenografts. Toxicology studies confirmed a wide safety margin consistent with the high degree of selectivity, enabling Phase 1 clinical trials using a crystalline formulation of PLX4032 (ref. 5). In a subset of melanoma patients, pathway inhibition was monitored in paired biopsy specimens collected before treatment initiation and following two weeks of treatment. This analysis revealed substantial inhibition of ERK phosphorylation, yet clinical evaluation did not show tumour regressions. At higher drug exposures afforded by a new amorphous drug formulation, greater than 80% inhibition of ERK phosphorylation in the tumours of patients correlated with clinical response. Indeed, the Phase 1 clinical data revealed a remarkably high 81% response rate in metastatic melanoma patients treated at an oral dose of 960 mg twice daily. These data demonstrate that BRAF-mutant melanomas are highly dependent on B-RAF kinase activity.
    Nature 09/2010; 467(7315):596-9. · 38.60 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Tumors with mutant BRAF and some with mutant RAS are dependent upon ERK signaling for proliferation, and their growth is suppressed by MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors. In contrast, tumor cells with human EGF receptor (HER) kinase activation proliferate in a MEK-independent manner. These findings have led to the development of RAF and MEK inhibitors as anticancer agents. Like MEK inhibitors, the RAF inhibitor PLX4032 inhibits the proliferation of BRAF(V600E) tumor cells but not that of HER kinase-dependent tumors. However, tumors with RAS mutation that are sensitive to MEK inhibition are insensitive to PLX4032. MEK inhibitors inhibit ERK phosphorylation in all normal and tumor cells, whereas PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling only in tumor cells expressing BRAF(V600E). In contrast, the drug activates MEK and ERK phosphorylation in cells with wild-type BRAF. In BRAF(V600E) tumor cells, MEK and RAF inhibitors affect the expression of a common set of genes. PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling output in mutant BRAF cells, whereas it transiently activates the expression of these genes in tumor cells with wild-type RAF. Thus, PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling output in a mutant BRAF-selective manner. These data explain why the drug selectively inhibits the growth of mutant BRAF tumors and suggest that it will not cause toxicity resulting from the inhibition of ERK signaling in normal cells. This selectivity may lead to a broader therapeutic index and help explain the greater antitumor activity observed with this drug than with MEK inhibitors.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 08/2010; 107(33):14903-8. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: BRAF(V600E) is the most frequent oncogenic protein kinase mutation known. Furthermore, inhibitors targeting "active" protein kinases have demonstrated significant utility in the therapeutic repertoire against cancer. Therefore, we pursued the development of specific kinase inhibitors targeting B-Raf, and the V600E allele in particular. By using a structure-guided discovery approach, a potent and selective inhibitor of active B-Raf has been discovered. PLX4720, a 7-azaindole derivative that inhibits B-Raf(V600E) with an IC(50) of 13 nM, defines a class of kinase inhibitor with marked selectivity in both biochemical and cellular assays. PLX4720 preferentially inhibits the active B-Raf(V600E) kinase compared with a broad spectrum of other kinases, and potent cytotoxic effects are also exclusive to cells bearing the V600E allele. Consistent with the high degree of selectivity, ERK phosphorylation is potently inhibited by PLX4720 in B-Raf(V600E)-bearing tumor cell lines but not in cells lacking oncogenic B-Raf. In melanoma models, PLX4720 induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis exclusively in B-Raf(V600E)-positive cells. In B-Raf(V600E)-dependent tumor xenograft models, orally dosed PLX4720 causes significant tumor growth delays, including tumor regressions, without evidence of toxicity. The work described here represents the entire discovery process, from initial identification through structural and biological studies in animal models to a promising therapeutic for testing in cancer patients bearing B-Raf(V600E)-driven tumors.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 03/2008; 105(8):3041-6. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Protein kinases are a large family of cell signaling mediators undergoing intensive research to identify inhibitors or modulators useful for medicine. As one strategy, small-molecule compounds that bind the active site with high affinity can be used to inhibit the enzyme activity. X-ray crystallography is a powerful method to reveal the structures of the kinase active sites, and thus aid in the design of high-affinity, selective inhibitors. However, a limitation still exists in the ability to produce purified kinases in amounts sufficient for crystallography. Furthermore, kinases exist in different conformation states as part of their normal regulation, and the ability to prepare crystals of kinases in these various states also remains a limitation. In this study, the c-Abl, c-Src, and c-Met kinases are produced in high yields in Escherichia coli by using a bicistronic vector encoding the PTP1B tyrosine phosphatase. A 100-fold lower dose of the inhibitor, Imatinib, was observed to inhibit the unphosphorylated form of c-Abl kinase prepared by using this vector, compared to the phosphorylated form produced without PTP1B, consistent with the known selectivity of this inhibitor for the unactivated conformation of the enzyme. Unphosphorylated c-Met kinase produced with this vector was used to obtain the crystal structure, at 2.15-A resolution, of the autoinhibited form of the kinase domain, revealing an intricate network of interactions involving c-Met residues documented previously to cause dysregulation when mutated in several cancers.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 04/2006; 103(10):3563-8. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Pim1, a serine/threonine kinase, is involved in several biological functions including cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation. While pim1 has been shown to be involved in several hematopoietic cancers, it was also recently identified as a target of aberrant somatic hypermutation in diffuse large cell lymphoma (DLCL), the most common form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The crystal structures of Pim1 in apo form and bound with AMPPNP have been solved and several unique features of Pim1 were identified, including the presence of an extra beta-hairpin in the N-terminal lobe and an unusual conformation of the hinge connecting the two lobes of the enzyme. While the apo Pim1 structure is nearly identical with that reported recently, the structure of AMPPNP bound to Pim1 is significantly different. Pim1 is unique among protein kinases due to the presence of a proline residue at position 123 that precludes the formation of the canonical second hydrogen bond between the hinge backbone and the adenine moiety of ATP. One crystal structure reported here shows that changing P123 to methionine, a common residue that offers the backbone hydrogen bond to ATP, does not restore the ATP binding pocket of Pim1 to that of a typical kinase. These unique structural features in Pim1 result in novel binding modes of AMP and a known kinase inhibitor scaffold, as shown by co-crystallography. In addition, the kinase activities of five Pim1 mutants identified in DLCL patients have been determined. In each case, the observed effects on kinase activity are consistent with the predicted consequences of the mutation on the Pim1 structure. Finally, 70 co-crystal structures of low molecular mass, low-affinity compounds with Pim1 have been solved in order to identify novel chemical classes as potential Pim1 inhibitors. Based on the structural information, opportunities for optimization of one specific example are discussed.
    Journal of Molecular Biology 05/2005; 348(1):183-93. · 3.91 Impact Factor