Combined epidermal growth factor receptor targeting with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor gefitinib (ZD1839) and the monoclonal antibody cetuximab (IMC-C225): superiority over single-agent receptor targeting

Pablo Matar, Federico Rojo, Raúl Cassia, Gema Moreno-Bueno, Serena Di Cosimo, José Tabernero, Marta Guzmán, Sonia Rodriguez, Joaquín Arribas, José Palacios, José Baselga
Clinical Cancer Research 2004 October 1, 10 (19): 6487-501

PURPOSE: The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is abnormally activated in cancer and two classes of anti-EGFR agents, monoclonal antibodies and low-molecular-weight tyrosine kinase inhibitors, have shown antitumor activity in patients. Because these two classes of antireceptor agents target the EGFR at different sites, we decided to explore whether the combined administration of gefitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody, had superior antitumor activity than either agent given alone.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: We studied the effects of the combination of gefitinib and cetuximab in a panel of human cancer cell lines and in an EGFR-dependent human tumor xenograft model (A431). The effects of these two agents on EGFR signaling, proliferation, apoptosis, and vascularization were evaluated. In addition, we analyzed, with cDNA arrays, changes in gene expression profiles induced by both agents.

RESULTS: The combined treatment with gefitinib and cetuximab resulted in a synergistic effect on cell proliferation and in superior inhibition of EGFR-dependent signaling and induction of apoptosis. In a series of in vivo experiments, single-agent gefitinib or cetuximab resulted in transient complete tumor remission only at the highest doses. In contrast, suboptimal doses of gefitinib and cetuximab given together resulted in a complete and permanent regression of large tumors. In the combination-treated tumors, there was a superior inhibition of EGFR, mitogen-activated protein kinase, and Akt phosphorylation, as well as greater inhibition of cell proliferation and vascularization and enhanced apoptosis. Using cDNA arrays, we found 59 genes that were coregulated and 45 genes differentially regulated, including genes related to cell proliferation and differentiation, transcription, DNA synthesis and repair, angiogenesis, signaling molecules, cytoskeleton organization, and tumor invasion and metastasis.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest both shared and complementary mechanisms of action with gefitinib and cetuximab and support combined EGFR targeting as a clinically exploitable strategy.

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