Enhancement of antitumor activity of ionizing radiation by combined treatment with the selective epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitor ZD1839 (Iressa)

Cataldo Bianco, Giampaolo Tortora, Roberto Bianco, Roberta Caputo, Bianca Maria Veneziani, Rosa Caputo, Vincenzo Damiano, Teresa Troiani, Gabriella Fontanini, David Raben, Stefano Pepe, A Raffaele Bianco, Fortunato Ciardiello
Clinical Cancer Research 2002, 8 (10): 3250-8

PURPOSE: The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is expressed in the majority of human epithelial cancers and has been implicated in the development of cancer cell resistance to cyotoxic drugs and to ionizing radiation.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We used ZD1839, a selective small molecule EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor currently in clinical development. We tested the antiproliferative and the proapoptotic activity of ZD1839 in combination with ionizing radiation in human colon (GEO), ovarian (OVCAR-3), non-small cell lung (A549 and Calu-6), and breast (MCF-7 ADR) cancer cell lines. The antitumor activity of this combination was also tested in nude mice bearing established GEO colon cancer xenografts.

RESULTS: With ionizing radiation or ZD1839, a dose-dependent growth inhibition was observed in all of the cancer cell lines growing in soft agar. A cooperative antiproliferative and proapoptotic effect was obtained when cancer cells were treated with ionizing radiation followed by ZD1839. This effect was accompanied by inhibition in the expression of the antiapoptotic proteins bcl-xL and bcl-2, and by a suppression of the activated (phosphorylated) form of akt protein. Treatment of mice bearing established human GEO colon cancer xenografts with radiotherapy (RT) resulted in a dose-dependent tumor growth inhibition that was reversible upon treatment cessation. Long term GEO tumor growth regressions were obtained after RT in combination with ZD1839. This resulted in a significant improvement in survival of these mice as compared with the control group (P < 0.001), the RT-treated group (P < 0.001), or the ZD1839-treated group (P < 0.001). The only mice alive 10 weeks after tumor cell injection were in the RT-plus-ZD1839 group. Furthermore, 10% of mice in this group were alive and tumor-free after 26 weeks. Similar results were obtained in mice bearing established human A549 lung adenocarcinoma xenografts. Finally, the combined treatment with RT plus ZD1839 was accompanied by a significant potentiation in the inhibition of transforming growth factor alpha, vascular epidermal growth factor, and basic fibroblast growth factor expression in cancer cells, which resulted in significant antiangiogenic effects as determined by immunohistochemical count of neovessels within the GEO tumors.

CONCLUSION: This study provides a rationale for evaluating in cancer patients the combination of ionizing radiation and selective EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors such as ZD1839.

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