Emerging role of epidermal growth factor receptor inhibition in therapy for advanced malignancy: focus on NSCLC

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004 Mar 1;58(3):991-1002. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2003.09.099.


Combination chemotherapy regimens have emerged as the standard approach in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. Meta-analyses have demonstrated a 2-month increase in median survival after platinum-based therapy vs. best supportive care, and an absolute 10% improvement in the 1-year survival rate. Just as importantly, cytotoxic therapy has produced benefits in symptom control and quality of life. Newer agents, including the taxanes, vinorelbine, gemcitabine, and irinotecan, have expanded our therapeutic options in the treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. Despite their contributions, we have reached a therapeutic plateau, with response rates seldom exceeding 30-40% in cooperative group studies and 1-year survival rates stable between 30% and 40%. It is doubtful that substituting one agent for another in various combinations will lead to any further improvement in these rates. The thrust of current research has focused on targeted therapy, and epidermal growth factor receptor inhibition is one of the most promising clinical strategies. Epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors currently under investigation include the small molecules gefitinib (Iressa, ZD1839) and erlotinib (Tarceva, OSI-774), as well as monoclonal antibodies such as cetuximab (IMC-225, Erbitux). Agents that have only begun to undergo clinical evaluation include CI-1033, an irreversible pan-erbB tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and PKI166 and GW572016, both examples of dual kinase inhibitors (inhibiting epidermal growth factor receptor and Her2). Preclinical models have demonstrated synergy for all these agents in combination with either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, leading to great enthusiasm regarding their ultimate contribution to lung cancer therapy. However, serious clinical challenges persist. These include the identification of the optimal dose(s); the proper integration of these agents into popular, established cytotoxic regimens; and the selection of the optimal setting(s) in which to test these compounds. Both gefitinib and erlotinib have shown clinical activity in pretreated, advanced non-small-cell lung cancer, but placebo-controlled randomized Phase III studies evaluating gefitinib in combination with standard cytotoxic therapy, to our chagrin, have failed to demonstrate a survival advantage compared with chemotherapy alone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Cetuximab
  • Cisplatin / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • Gefitinib
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Quinazolines / therapeutic use


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Quinazolines
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Cetuximab
  • Cisplatin
  • Gefitinib