Agents targeting EGFR and related ErbB family proteins are valuable therapies for the treatment of many cancers. For some tumor types, including squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (SCCHN), antibodies targeting EGFR were the first protein-directed agents to show clinical benefit, and remain a standard component of clinical strategies for management of the disease. Nevertheless, many patients display either intrinsic or acquired resistance to these drugs; hence, major research goals are to better understand the underlying causes of resistance, and to develop new therapeutic strategies that boost the impact of EGFR/ErbB inhibitors. In this review, we first summarize current standard use of EGFR inhibitors in the context of SCCHN, and described new agents targeting EGFR currently moving through pre-clinical and clinical development. We then discuss how changes in other transmembrane receptors, including IGF1R, c-Met, and TGF-β, can confer resistance to EGFR-targeted inhibitors, and discuss new agents targeting these proteins. Moving downstream, we discuss critical EGFR-dependent effectors, including PLC-γ; PI3K and PTEN; SHC, GRB2, and RAS and the STAT proteins, as factors in resistance to EGFR-directed inhibitors and as alternative targets of therapeutic inhibition. We summarize alternative sources of resistance among cellular changes that target EGFR itself, through regulation of ligand availability, post-translational modification of EGFR, availability of EGFR partners for hetero-dimerization and control of EGFR intracellular trafficking for recycling versus degradation. Finally, we discuss new strategies to identify effective therapeutic combinations involving EGFR-targeted inhibitors, in the context of new system level data becoming available for analysis of individual tumors.
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