The trifunctional antibody ertumaxomab destroys tumor cells that express low levels of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2

Cancer Res. 2009 May 15;69(10):4270-6. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-08-2861. Epub 2009 May 12.


Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2/neu) is an important target for the treatment of the breast cancers in which it is overexpressed. However, no approved anti-HER2/neu therapy is available for the majority of breast cancer patients, who express HER2/neu at low levels (with scores of 1+ or 2+/fluorescence in situ hybridization-negative). The trifunctional antibody ertumaxomab targets HER2/neu, CD3, and activating Fcgamma receptors. In presence of ertumaxomab, tri-cell complexes consisting of tumor cells, T cells, and accessory cells form to cause tumor cell lysis. In a phase I trial with metastatic breast cancer patients, ertumaxomab could be applied safely and resulted in radiographically confirmed clinical responses. In this study, we compare ertumaxomab- and trastuzumab-mediated killing of cancer cell lines that express HER2/neu at low and high levels. Under optimal conditions for trastuzumab-mediated destruction of HER2/neu-overexpressing cells, only ertumaxomab was able to mediate the elimination of tumor cell lines that express HER2/neu at low levels (1+). Ertumaxomab-mediated activity was accompanied by a Th1-based cytokine release, a unique mode of action of trifunctional antibodies. Competitive binding studies with trastuzumab and 520C9 mapped the binding site of ertumaxomab to the extracellular regions II and III of the HER2/neu ectodomain. This site is distinct from the binding site of trastuzumab, so that HER2/neu-expressing tumor cells can be eliminated by ertumaxomab in the presence of high amounts of trastuzumab. The ability of ertumaxomab to induce cytotoxicity against various tumor cell lines, including those with low HER2/neu antigen density, may provide a novel therapeutic option for breast cancer patients who are not eligible for trastuzumab treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Antibodies, Bispecific / toxicity*
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / toxicity*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cecal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Ileal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / cytology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / drug effects
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics*


  • Antibodies, Bispecific
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • ertumaxomab