Background: Most targeted anticancer therapies, as well as cytotoxic and radiation therapies, are encumbered by the development of secondary resistance by cancer cells. Resistance is a complex phenomenon involving multiple mechanisms, including activation of signaling pathways such as phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). Novel strategies to overcome resistance by targeting these signaling pathways are being evaluated.
Methods: PubMed and key cancer congress abstracts were searched until July 2012 for preclinical and clinical data relating to the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway and anticancer treatment resistance, and use of PI3K/AKT/mTOR inhibitors in resistant cancer cell lines and patient populations.
Results: Activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway is frequently implicated in resistance to anticancer therapies, including biologics, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, radiation, and cytotoxics. As such, inhibitors of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway are being rapidly evaluated in preclinical models and in clinical studies to determine whether they can restore therapeutic sensitivity when given in combination. In breast cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer, and glioblastoma, we find compelling preclinical evidence to show that inhibitors of PI3K or mTOR can restore sensitivity in resistant cells. Although clinical evidence is less mature, a recent Phase III study with the mTORC1 inhibitor everolimus in patients with advanced breast cancer resistant to aromatase inhibition and several Phase I/II studies with PI3K inhibitors demonstrate proof-of-concept, warranting future clinical evaluation.
Conclusion: Current preclinical and clinical evidence suggest that inhibitors of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway could have utility in combination with other anticancer therapies to circumvent resistance by cancer cells. Multiple clinical studies are ongoing.