Research ArticleCancer

Combining three antibodies nullifies feedback-mediated resistance to erlotinib in lung cancer

Sci. Signal.  02 Jun 2015:
Vol. 8, Issue 379, pp. ra53
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aaa0725

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Abstract

Despite initial responses to targeted kinase inhibitors, lung cancer patients presenting with primary epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations acquire resistance, often due to a second-site mutation (T790M). However, clinical trials found no survival benefits in patients treated with a monoclonal antibody (mAb) to EGFR that should block activation of the mutated receptor and thus bypass resistance to molecules that target the catalytic or ATP-binding site. Using cell lines with the T790M mutation, we discovered that prolonged exposure to mAbs against only the EGFR triggered network rewiring by (i) stimulating the extracellular signal–regulated kinase (ERK) pathway; (ii) inducing the transcription of HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) and HER3, which encode other members of the EGFR family, and the gene encoding HGF, which is the ligand for the receptor tyrosine kinase MET; and (iii) stimulating the interaction between MET and HER3, which promoted MET activity. Supplementing the EGFR-specific mAb with those targeting HER2 and HER3 suppressed these compensatory feedback loops in cultured lung cancer cells. The triple mAb combination targeting all three receptors prevented the activation of ERK, accelerated the degradation of the receptors, inhibited the proliferation of tumor cells but not of normal cells, and markedly reduced the growth of tumors in mice xenografted with cells that were resistant to combined treatment with erlotinib and the single function-blocking EGFR mAb. These findings uncovered feedback loops that enable resistance to treatment paradigms that use a single antibody and indicate a new strategy for the treatment of lung cancer patients.

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