Prospective use of the single-mouse experimental design for the evaluation of PLX038A

  • Samson Ghilu
  • Qilin Li
  • Shaun D. Fontaine
  • Daniel V. Santi
  • Raushan T. Kurmasheva
  • Siyuan Zheng
  • Peter J. HoughtonEmail author
Original Article



Defining robust criteria for drug activity in preclinical studies allows for fewer animals per treatment group, and potentially allows for inclusion of additional cancer models that more accurately represent genetic diversity and, potentially, allows for tumor sensitivity biomarker identification.


Using a single-mouse design, 32 pediatric xenograft tumor models representing diverse pediatric cancer types [Ewing sarcoma (9), brain (4), rhabdomyosarcoma (10), Wilms tumor (4), and non-CNS rhabdoid tumors (5)] were evaluated for response to a single administration of pegylated-SN38 (PLX038A), a controlled-release PEGylated formulation of SN-38. Endpoints measured were percent tumor regression, and event-free survival (EFS). The correlation between response to PLX038A was compared to that for ten models treated with irinotecan (2.5 mg/kg × 5 days × 2 cycles), using a traditional design (10 mice/group). Correlations between tumor sensitivity, genetic mutations and gene expression were sought. Models showing no disease at week 20 were categorized as ‘extreme responders’ to PLX038A, whereas those with EFS less than 5 weeks were categorized as ‘resistant’.


The activity of PLX038A was evaluable in 31/32 models. PLX038A induced > 50% volume regressions in 25 models (78%). Initial tumor volume regression correlated only modestly with EFS (r2 = 0.238), but sensitivity to PLX038A was better correlated with response to irinotecan when one tumor hypersensitive to PLX038A was omitted (r2 = 0.6844). Mutations in 53BP1 were observed in three of six sensitive tumor models compared to none in resistant models (n = 6).


This study demonstrates the feasibility of using a single-mouse design for assessing the antitumor activity of an agent, while encompassing greater genetic diversity representative of childhood cancers. PLX038A was highly active in most xenograft models, and tumor sensitivity to PLX038A was correlated with sensitivity to irinotecan, validating the single-mouse design in identifying agents with the same mechanism of action. Biomarkers that correlated with model sensitivity included wild-type TP53, or mutant TP53 but with a mutation in 53BP1, thus a defect in DNA damage response. These results support the value of the single-mouse experimental design.


Drug evaluation Alternative experimental design Single mouse study Response criteria Pediatric cancer Genetic diversity 



This work was funded in part by USPHS award UO1CA199297, CA169368 and CA165995 (PJH) from NCI and CPRIT PR170055 (SZ).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

S. Ghilu declares that he has no conflict of interest. Q. Li declares that he has no conflict of interest. S. D. Fontaine is an employee and holds stock in Prolynx. D. V. Santi is an employee and holds stock in Prolynx. R. T. Kurmasheva declares that she has no conflict of interest. S. Zheng declares that he has no conflict of interest. P. J. Houghton declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This article does not contain any studies with human participants.

Supplementary material

280_2019_4017_MOESM1_ESM.tif (1.9 mb)
Supplementary file1 (TIF 1937 kb) DNA mismatch repair (left) and replication (right) pathways are up regulated in the models resistant to PLX038A treatment. These GSEA results show more genes of each pathway are highly expressed in the resistant tumors (towards the blue bar). Each line in the figure represents the relative ranking of a pathway gene in the resistant vs sensitive comparison


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samson Ghilu
    • 1
  • Qilin Li
    • 1
  • Shaun D. Fontaine
    • 2
  • Daniel V. Santi
    • 2
  • Raushan T. Kurmasheva
    • 1
  • Siyuan Zheng
    • 1
  • Peter J. Houghton
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Greehey Children’s Cancer Research InstituteUT Health San AntonioSan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.ProLynx LLCSouth San FranciscoUSA

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