Targeting galectin-driven regulatory circuits in cancer and fibrosis


Galectins are a family of endogenous glycan-binding proteins that have crucial roles in a broad range of physiological and pathological processes. As a group, these proteins use both extracellular and intracellular mechanisms as well as glycan-dependent and independent pathways to reprogramme the fate and function of numerous cell types. Given their multifunctional roles in both tissue fibrosis and cancer, galectins have been identified as potential therapeutic targets for these disorders. Here, we focus on the therapeutic relevance of galectins, particularly galectin 1 (GAL1), GAL3 and GAL9 to tumour progression and fibrotic diseases. We consider an array of galectin-targeted strategies, including small-molecule carbohydrate inhibitors, natural polysaccharides and their derivatives, peptides, peptidomimetics and biological agents (notably, neutralizing monoclonal antibodies and truncated galectins) and discuss their mechanisms of action, selectivity and therapeutic potential in preclinical models of fibrosis and cancer. We also review the results of clinical trials that aim to evaluate the efficacy of galectin inhibitors in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and cancer. The rapid pace of glycobiology research, combined with the acute need for drugs to alleviate fibrotic inflammation and overcome resistance to anticancer therapies, will accelerate the translation of anti-galectin therapeutics into clinical practice.