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Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2011 May;10(5):351-64. doi: 10.1038/nrd3374.

Harnessing synthetic lethal interactions in anticancer drug discovery.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-1331, USA.


Unique features of tumours that can be exploited by targeted therapies are a key focus of current cancer research. One such approach is known as synthetic lethality screening, which involves searching for genetic interactions of two mutations whereby the presence of either mutation alone has no effect on cell viability but the combination of the two mutations results in cell death. The presence of one of these mutations in cancer cells but not in normal cells can therefore create opportunities to selectively kill cancer cells by mimicking the effect of the second genetic mutation with targeted therapy. Here, we summarize strategies that can be used to identify synthetic lethal interactions for anticancer drug discovery, describe examples of such interactions that are currently being investigated in preclinical and clinical studies of targeted anticancer therapies, and discuss the challenges of realizing the full potential of such therapies.

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