Beyond trastuzumab: overcoming resistance to targeted HER-2 therapy in breast cancer

Philippe L Bedard, Evandro de Azambuja, Fatima Cardoso
Current Cancer Drug Targets 2009, 9 (2): 148-62
Overexpression of the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2) represents a biological subclass of breast cancer with distinct molecular alterations, clinical behavior, and response to systemic therapy. Trastuzumab is a monoclonal antibody directed against HER-2 which has revolutionized the management of both early and advanced breast cancer. It may exert its anti-cancer effects through inhibition of intracellular signaling, upregulation of p27, impaired angiogenesis, induction of immune-mediated destruction, and blockade of cleavage of the extracellular domain of HER-2. In spite of its robust clinical activity, most women with metastatic HER-2 overexpressing breast cancer eventually progress on trastuzumab therapy. Possible mechanisms of resistance include: altered receptor antibody interaction, PTEN loss and enhanced Akt signaling, p27 loss, signaling through other receptors. Preclinical experiments, clinical experience with the use of trastuzumab beyond progression, and a recent phase III clinical trial with Lapatinib, a dual EGFR/HER-2 tyrosine kinase inhibitor, demonstrate that the HER-2 signaling axis remains an important therapeutic target even after progression on trastuzumab. A variety of novel strategies are currently in development to exploit this pathway following the onset of resistance, such as receptor antibodies, sheddase inhibitors, signal transduction inhibitors, heat shock protein inhibitors, proteasome inhibitors, anti-angiogenic agents, and immune-stimulatory therapies, either as single agents or in combination with trastuzumab. Rational clinical trial design, with attention to appropriate patient selection and prospective collection of biological material, is needed to ensure that the new generation of anti-HER-2 targeted therapies realizes its promise in the treatment of trastuzumab-resistant disease.

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