Background: A limited number of approved therapeutic options are available to metastatic medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) patients, and the response to conventional chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy strategies is inadequate. Sporadic and inherited mutations in the tyrosine kinase RET result in oncogenic activation that is associated with the pathogenesis of MTC. Cabozantinib is a potent inhibitor of MET, RET, and vascular endothelial factor receptor 2 (VEGFR2), as well as other tyrosine kinases that have been implicated in tumor development and progression. The object of this study was to determine the in vitro biochemical and cellular inhibitory profile of cabozantinib against RET, and in vivo antitumor efficacy using a xenograft model of MTC.
Methods: Cabozantinib was evaluated in biochemical and cell-based assays that determined the potency of the compound against wild type and activating mutant forms of RET. Additionally, the pharmacodynamic modulation of RET and MET and in vivo antitumor activity of cabozantinib was examined in a MTC tumor model following subchronic oral administration.
Results: In biochemical assays, cabozantinib inhibited multiple forms of oncogenic RET kinase activity, including M918T and Y791F mutants. Additionally, it inhibited proliferation of TT tumor cells that harbor a C634W activating mutation of RET that is most often associated with MEN2A and familial MTC. In these same cells grown as xenograft tumors in nude mice, oral administration of cabozantinib resulted in dose-dependent tumor growth inhibition that correlated with a reduction in circulating plasma calcitonin levels. Moreover, immunohistochemical analyses of tumors revealed that cabozantinib reduced levels of phosphorylated MET and RET, and decreased tumor cellularity, proliferation, and vascularization.
Conclusions: Cabozantinib is a potent inhibitor of RET and prevalent mutationally activated forms of RET known to be associated with MTC, and effectively inhibits the growth of a MTC tumor cell model in vitro and in vivo.