Whacking a mole-cule: clinical activity and mechanisms of resistance to third generation EGFR inhibitors in EGFR mutated lung cancers with EGFR-T790M
Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations, especially EGFR-exon 19 deletions and EGFR-L858R, are the most frequent actionable genomic events in lung adenocarcinomas. Tumors arise due to constitutively activated EGFR signaling and are susceptible to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). First generation EGFR TKIs (gefitinib and erlotinib) and the second generation EGFR TKI afatinib are approved worldwide. Although targeted therapies against EGFR mutants induce dramatic initial responses, acquired resistance (through multiple biological mechanisms) to erlotinib, gefitinib and afatinib emerges within the first 1-2 years of continued monotherapy. EGFR-T790M accounts for more than half of acquired resistance to first or second generation EGFR TKIs by modifying ATP affinity and drug binding kinetics. Two new studies have shown that two covalent pyrimidine inhibitors—AZD9291 and rociletinib of EGFR-T790M (i.e., third generation EGFR TKIs) shown remarkable clinical activity in patients with acquired resistance to erlotinib, gefitinib and afatinib when the tumor carries EGFR-T790M in conjunction with an activating mutation. However, and regrettably, acquired resistance to these third generation EGFR TKIs has already been reported in preclinical models and clinical specimens; such as a tertiary mutation at EGFR-C797S that prevents covalent binding of EGFR TKIs. The experience with sequential EGFR TKI monotherapy highlights tumor heterogeneity and adaptability (i.e., relentless game of whack-a-mole played between TKIs and cancer), and will help shape future clinical development of novel combinatory approaches to manage EGFR mutated lung adenocarcinomas.