Role of RET protein-tyrosine kinase inhibitors in the treatment RET-driven thyroid and lung cancers

Robert Roskoski, Abdollah Sadeghi-Nejad
Pharmacological Research: the Official Journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society 2018, 128: 1-17
RET is a transmembrane receptor protein-tyrosine kinase that is required for the development of the nervous system and several other tissues. The mechanism of activation of RET by its glial-cell derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) ligands differs from that of all other receptor protein-tyrosine kinases owing to the requirement for additional GDNF family receptor-α (GFRα) co-receptors (GFRα1/2/3/4). RET point mutations have been reported in multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A, MEN2B) and medullary thyroid carcinoma. In contrast, RET fusion proteins have been reported in papillary thyroid and non-small cell lung adenocarcinomas. More than a dozen fusion partners of RET have been described in papillary thyroid carcinomas, most frequently CCDC6-RET and NCOA4-RET. RET-fusion proteins, commonly KIF5B-RET, have also been found in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Several drugs targeting RET have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of cancer: (i) cabozantinib and vandetanib for medullary thyroid carcinomas and (ii) lenvatinib and sorafenib for differentiated thyroid cancers. In addition, alectinib and sunitinib are approved for the treatment of other neoplasms. Each of these drugs is a multikinase inhibitor that has activity against RET. Previous X-ray studies indicated that vandetanib binds within the ATP-binding pocket and forms a hydrogen bond with A807 within the RET hinge and it makes hydrophobic contact with L881 of the catalytic spine which occurs in the floor of the adenine-binding pocket. Our molecular modeling studies indicate that the other antagonists bind in a similar fashion. All of these antagonists bind to the active conformation of RET and are therefore classified as type I inhibitors. The drugs also make variable contacts with other residues of the regulatory and catalytic spines. None of these drugs was designed to bind preferentially to RET and it is hypothesized that RET-specific antagonists might produce even better clinical outcomes. Currently the number of new cases of neoplasms bearing RET mutations or RET-fusion proteins is estimated to be about 10,000 per year in the United States. This is about the same as the incidence of chronic myelogenous leukemia for which imatinib and second and third generation BCR-Abl non-receptor protein-tyrosine kinase antagonists have proven clinically efficacious and which are commercially successful. These findings warrant the continued development of specific antagonists targeting RET-driven neoplasms.

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