The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a member of the family of transmembrane protein kinase receptors known as the erbB or HER receptor family. When activated, EGFR phosphorylates and activates other intracellular proteins that affect cell signaling pathways, cellular proliferation, control of apoptosis and angiogenesis. EGFR signaling is best thought of as a network of activating and inactivating proteins with EGFR as the entry point into the network. EGFR overexpression occurs in most GI malignancies and while data are not entirely consistent, EGFR overexpression often confers a poor prognosis in those GI malignancies that have been studied. It often correlates with poorly differentiated histology, more advanced stage and other known poor prognostic markers. The EGFR is a tempting target because of its presence and overexpression on so many tumor types. However, downstream of the EGFR are several proteins that may be activated without EGFR thus allowing blockade to be overcome. Therefore, while blocking the activity of the EGFR protein appears to be a promising anticancer strategy, a simplistic strategy of blocking only EGFR is likely to only impact a minority of patients. It is time for the laboratory and clinical researchers to work closely together to develop this treatment strategy, moving back and forth from clinical to laboratory to best understand how to block this network effectively enough to produce a broader antitumor effect. While multiple methods of targeting the EGFR pathway are under development, including the inhibition of downstream proteins, only two modalities have entered clinical trials in GI malignancies: small molecule inhibitors of the intracellular kinase domain of EGFR and antibodies designed to block the extracellular ligand-binding domain of EGFR. EGFR inhibitors are still experimental in every GI malignancy with the notable exception of cetuximab that is approved for second or third-line therapy of metastatic colorectal cancer, used either alone or in combination with irinotecan (Camptosar, Kalamazoo, Mich). Data on clinical applications of these agents in GI malignancies will be the focus of this paper.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pharmacology (medical)