Challenges of detecting EGFR T790M in gefitinib/erlotinib-resistant tumours

Lung Cancer. 2008 Jun:60 Suppl 2:S3-9. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5002(08)70099-0.


For patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the introduction of the epi- dermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), gefitinib and erlotinib, into clinical practice was promising. Treatment with either of these agents is associated with an objective response in 10-20% of patients. Subsequent studies have shown that patients responsive to gefitinib/erlotinib have tumours containing somatic activating mutations in the EGFR gene. Although impressive clinical and radiological responses have been observed in these patients, tumour progression occurs after the prolonged administration of gefitinib/erlotinib as acquired resistance develops. In order to combat acquired resistance, research has been largely focused on determining the factors underlying it. Two resistance mechanisms have so far been identified: a secondary mutation in the EGFR gene, T790M, and amplification of the MET proto-oncogene. This review will centre on T790M, which is thought to cause steric hindrance and impair the binding of gefitinib/erlotinib. A novel class of irreversible TKIs currently under development may retain activity against some common resistance mechanisms, including T790M. The next challenge is to identify accurately the subgroup of patients with NSCLC whose tumours harbour EGFR T790M. To this end, post-treatment tumour specimens will be needed to establish molecular profiles for each patient. In addition, novel, highly sensitive technology will be required to detect these mutations. This is because allelic dilution, whereby the EGFR gene is amplified but only a few copies of the T790M allele are needed to confer resistance, may obscure results of conventional sequencing methods. The importance of identifying patients who harbour T790M cannot be overstated; the development of irreversible TKIs will have profound implications for their treatment. In this way, treatment strategies in NSCLC are becoming increasingly tailored to the individual, and may set an example for other areas of oncology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics*
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • Gefitinib
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • MAS1 protein, human
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Mas
  • Quinazolines
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Gefitinib