Stromal cells within the tumor microenvironment play a supportive role in tumor growth, progression, and treatment resistance; therefore, these nonmalignant cells are potential therapeutic targets. In this issue of the JCI, Szot et al. devised a strategy to exploit the cell-surface marker TEM8 (also known as ANTXR1), which is expressed by cancer-associated stromal cells, as a zip code to deliver an antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) linked to the potent cancer-killing drug monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE). In preclinical tumor and experimental metastasis models of multiple cancer types, TEM8-ADC targeted TEM8-expressing cancer-associated stromal cells, which processed and liberated membrane-permeable MMAE and released this drug via the P-glycoprotein (P-gp) drug transporter. Released MMAE killed cancer cells through a bystander mechanism that did minimal damage to the stromal cells themselves. P-gp–expressing tumor cells displayed MMAE resistance, suggesting that P-gp expression status may identify patients who might benefit the most from TEM8-ADC. This strategy, termed DAaRTS (drug activation and release through stroma), represents an elegant example of how selective expression of a cell-surface molecule on cancer-associated stroma can be exploited to facilitate drug delivery and shrink solid tumors.
James V. McCann, Jamie L. Null, Andrew C. Dudley