Acquired resistance to EGFR inhibitors: mechanisms and prevention strategies

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004 Mar 1;58(3):914-26. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2003.09.091.


Potent and specific, or relatively specific, inhibitors of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling, including monoclonal antibodies and small molecular weight compounds, have been successfully developed. Both types of agent have been found to have significant antitumor activity, especially when used in combination with radio- hormone- and chemotherapy in preclinical studies. Because of the potentiation of the conventional drug activity in these combination settings, inhibitors of EGFR signaling have often been referred to as sensitizers for chemotherapy or radiation, as well as drug resistance reversal agents. Phase II clinical trials in head-and-neck as well as lung cancer suggested this concept of chemosensitization might translate into the clinic, but this remains to be definitively proven in randomized, double-blind Phase III trials. Given the extensive preclinical literature on EGFR blocking drugs and the advanced clinical development of such agents, it is surprising that the possibility of development of acquired resistance to the EGFR inhibitors themselves, a common clinical problem with virtually all other currently used anticancer drugs, remains a largely unexplored subject of investigation. Here we summarize some of the possible mechanisms that can result in acquired resistance to EGFR-targeting drugs. Alternative combination therapies to circumvent and delay this problem are suggested.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • ErbB Receptors