Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitors in the treatment of ALK-driven lung cancers

Robert Roskoski
Pharmacological Research: the Official Journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society 2017, 117: 343-356
Anaplastic lymphoma kinase is expressed in two-thirds of the anaplastic large-cell lymphomas as an NPM-ALK fusion protein. Physiological ALK is a receptor protein-tyrosine kinase within the insulin receptor superfamily of proteins that participates in nervous system development. The EML4-ALK fusion protein and four other ALK-fusion proteins play a fundamental role in the development in about 5% of non-small cell lung cancers. The amino-terminal portions of the ALK fusion proteins result in dimerization and subsequent activation of the ALK protein kinase domain that plays a key role in the pathogenesis of various tumors. Downstream signaling from the ALK fusion protein leads to the activation of the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK1/2 cell proliferation module and the JAK/STAT cell survival pathways. Moreover, nearly two dozen ALK activating mutations are involved in the pathogenesis of childhood neuroblastomas. The occurrence of oncogenic ALK-fusion proteins, particularly in non-small cell lung cancer, has fostered considerable interest in the development of ALK inhibitors. Crizotinib was the first such inhibitor approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer in 2011. The median time for the emergence of crizotinib drug resistance is 10.5 months after the initiation of therapy. Such resistance prompted the development of second-generation drugs including ceritinib and alectinib, which are approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Unlike the single gatekeeper mutation that occurs in drug-resistant epidermal growth factor receptor in lung cancer, nearly a dozen different mutations in the catalytic domain of ALK fusion proteins have been discovered that result in crizotinib resistance. Crizotinib, ceritinib, and alectinib form a complex within the front cleft between the small and large lobes of an inactive ALK protein-kinase domain with a compact activation segment. These drugs are classified as type I½ B inhibitors because they bind to an inactive enzyme and they do not extend past the gatekeeper into the back pocket of the drug binding site.

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