Ryan Corcoran, MD, PhD

Corcoran Lab

The Corcoran laboratory focuses on developing new and effective therapies for gastrointestinal cancers, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancers, by targeting the specific survival signals that are active in a given patient’s cancer.


Ryan Corcoran, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

Research Summary

The Corcoran laboratory focuses on developing new and effective therapies for gastrointestinal cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic, stomach, and esophageal cancers, by targeting the specific survival signals that are active in a given patient’s cancer. Our research utilizes targeted therapies, which are drugs that inhibit signaling pathways activated by the specific mutations that drive individual tumors. Since cancer cells often become resistant to these targeted therapies by activating alternative signaling pathways, we focus on identifying these key resistance signals in cancer cells. We utilize this information to devise effective combinations of targeted therapies that anticipate and ultimately overcome these mechanisms of drug resistance. Overall, our goal is to develop promising therapeutic strategies that can be evaluated in clinical trials for patients whose cancers are driven by specific mutations.

Read the Corcoran Lab's Annual report in full

Group Members

Ryan Corcoran, MD, PHD
Principal Investigator

Group Members

  • Leanne Ahronian, PhD
  • Jason Godfrey, MS
  • Brandon Nadres
  • Mehlika Hazar Rethinam, PhD

Research Projects

Targeted therapy strategies for gastrointestinal cancers

Historically, the standard clinical approach for patients with advanced cancers has been to treat all patients with the same tumor type with the same generalized chemotherapy strategy. However, even among patients with the same type of tumor, the genetic mutations driving tumor growth in each individual patient can be vastly different. As an alternative approach, by identifying the key gene mutations present in an individual patient’s tumor, we can “personalize” therapy by matching each patient with specific therapies that target those mutations essential for tumor growth. Our laboratory focuses on developing targeted therapy strategies directed against specific mutations commonly found in gastrointestinal cancers, including cancers with BRAF and KRAS mutations.  However, while targeted therapy strategies can lead to dramatic tumor responses, clinical benefit is often limited by the ability of tumor cells to evolve and develop resistance to therapy. By identifying and understanding the key signals driving resistance, our laboratory aims to devise combinations of targeted agents that can overcome or even prevent resistance.

BRAF-mutant colorectal cancer

BRAF mutations occur in 10-15% of colorectal cancers and confer poor prognosis. While BRAF inhibitors have shown dramatic anti-tumor activity in melanomas harboring BRAF mutations, these agents are ineffective in BRAF-mutant colorectal cancers. Therefore, our laboratory has focused on determinants of resistance to BRAF inhibitors in BRAF-mutant colorectal cancers. We have found that reactivation of the MAPK signaling pathway (often mediated through EGFR) contributes to the relative insensitivity of BRAF mutant colorectal cancers to BRAF inhibition. However, we found that combining BRAF inhibitors with EGFR and/or MEK inhibitors can overcome resistance, leading to improved efficacy (Cancer Discovery, 2012). We have also identified multiple mechanisms of resistance that can arise to these newer BRAF inhibitor combinations, and are utilizing this information to develop therapeutic strategies to surmount resistance (Cancer Discovery, 2015).

KRAS-mutant cancers

KRAS is the most commonly mutated oncogene in human cancer, mutated in ~20% of all cancers, including pancreatic (~90%) and colorectal cancers (~40%). Currently no effective therapies exist for KRAS-mutant cancers, likely because KRAS itself has proven difficult to target directly with small molecules. Our current work focuses on identifying novel target pathways in KRAS-mutant cancers though hypothesis-based and large-scale pooled RNA interference screening approaches, with the goal of developing new targeted therapy combination approaches for KRAS-mutant cancers. Recently, through a pooled RNA interference drug screen, we identified combined targeting of BCL-XL and MEK as a promising therapeutic strategy that leads to dramatic tumor regressions in KRAS-mutant mouse tumor models (Cancer Cell, 2013). We have expanded these approaches to identify other potentially effective targets in KRAS-mutant cancers.

Translational Oncology

The overall goal of our research is to develop improved treatments for patients with gastrointestinal cancers and to identify molecular markers that may help us identify those patients most likely to respond to a given therapy. As such, our laboratory takes a highly translational approach to bringing new therapeutic strategies into the clinic for evaluation in novel clinical trials. Based on our observations, we have launched several clinical trials of BRAF inhibitor combinations in BRAF-mutant colorectal cancers that are showing increased efficacy (J Clinical Oncology, 2015, in press). We have also developed a clinical trial combining the BCL-XL/BCL-2 inhibitor navitoclax with the MEK inhibitor trametinib in KRAS-mutant cancers.

To guide our laboratory investigations, we are utilizing key clinical specimens, including tumor biopsies and patient-derived tumor models to understand how tumors become resistant to therapy. We also utilize serial blood collections for circulating tumor DNA analysis to monitor the tumor heterogeneity and clonal dynamics associated with the emergence of therapeutic resistance.

Research Positions

Postdoctoral Position (1)

A postdoctoral position is available in the laboratory of Dr. Ryan Corcoran at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center/Harvard Medical School.  Our research focuses on developing new and effective therapies for gastrointestinal cancers, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancers, by targeting the specific survival signals that are active in a given patient’s cancer based on its mutational profile. Since cancer cells often become resistant to targeted therapies by activating alternative signaling pathways, we focus on identifying these key resistance signals and utilizing this information to devise effective combinations of targeted therapies to overcome resistance and provide novel strategies for evaluation in clinical trials.

Current projects in the laboratory include: synthetic lethal RNAi-drug screens to identify novel targeted therapy combinations for KRAS mutant cancers; modeling resistance to RAF inhibitor combinations in BRAF mutant colorectal cancers and understanding key changes in signal transduction; and whole exome sequencing of paired pre-treatment and post-progression biopsies from patients with GI cancers who progress after an initial response to a targeted therapy regimen, in order to identify key alterations involved in clinical acquired resistance to therapy.

Applicants should be highly motivated, must have an PhD or MD or equivalent, and no more than three years of postdoctoral experience.



To apply, email a cover letter, CV, and three letters of recommendation to:

Ryan B. Corcoran, MD PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
149 13th St, 7th floor
Boston, MA  02129

Email: rbcorcoran@partners.org

Select Publications

Corcoran RB, Atreya CE, Falchook GS, Kwak EL, Ryan DP, Bendell JC, Hamid O, Messersmith W, Daud A, Kurzrock R, Sun P, Cunningham E, Little S, Orford K, Motwani M, Bai Y, Patel K, Venook AP, Kopetz S. Combined BRAF and MEK Inhi-bition with Dabrafenib and Trametinib in BRAF V600 Mutant Colorectal Cancer. J. Clinical Oncology. (2015), in press.

Ahronian LG, Sennott EM, Van Allen EM, Wagle N, Kwak EL, Faris JE, Godfrey JT, Nishimura K, Lynch KD, Mermel CH, Lockerman EL, Kalsy A, Gurski Jr. JM, Bahl S, Anderka K, Green LM, Lennon NJ, Huynh TG, Mino-Kenudson M, Getz G, Dias-Santagata D, Iafrate AJ, Engelman JA, Garraway LA, Corcoran RB. Clinical acquired resistance to RAF inhibitor combinations in BRAF-mutant colorectal cancer through MAPK pathway altera-tions. Cancer Discovery, 5:358-67 (2015).

Siravegna G, Mussolin B, Buscarino M, Corti G, Cassingena A, Crisafulli G, Pon-zetti A, Cremolini C, Amatu A, Lauricella C, Lamba S, Hobor S, Avallone A, Valtorta E, Rospo G, Medico E, Motta V, Antoniotti C, Tatangelo F, Bellosillo B, Veronese S, Budillon A, Montagut C, Racca P, Marsoni S, Falcone A, Corcoran RB, Di Nicol-antonio F, Loupakis F, Siena S, Sartore-Bianchi A, Bardelli A. Clonal evolution and resistance to EGFR blockade in the blood of colorectal cancer patients. Nature Medicine. (2015) Epub ahead of print.

Corcoran RB*, Rothenberg SM*, Hata A, Piris A, Nazarian R, Brown RD, Godfrey JT, Winokur D, Walsh J, Mino-Kenud-son M, Maheswaran S, Settleman J, Wargo JA, Flaherty KT, Haber DA, En-gelman JA. TORC1 suppression predicts responsiveness to vemurafenib in BRAF mutant melanoma. Science Translational Medicine. 5: 196ra98 (2013).

Corcoran RB, Cheng KA, Ebi H, Hata A, Faber AC, Coffee EM, Greninger P, Brown RD, Godfrey JT, Cohoon TJ, Song Y, Lifshits E, Hung KE, Shioda T, Dias-Santagata D, Singh A, Settleman J, Benes CH, Mino-Kenudson M, Wong KK, Engelman JA. Synthetic lethal inter-action of combined BCL-XL and MEK inhibition promotes tumor regressions in KRAS mutant cancer models. Cancer Cell. 23: 121-8(2013).

*Denotes equal contribution

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