Acquired resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) targeted antibodies represents a clinical challenge in the treatment of gastrointestinal tumors such as metastatic colorectal cancer, but its molecular mechanisms are incompletely understood. We scanned KRAS exon 2/3/4, NRAS exon 2/3/4 and the overlapping epitopes of the EGFR antibodies cetuximab and panitumumab for mutations in pre- and post-treatment tumor tissue of 21 patients with gastrointestinal cancer treated with chemotherapy +/- EGFR antibodies by next-generation sequencing ("tumor tissue" cohort). We describe a novel EGFR exon 12 mutation acquired in tumors of 1 out of 3 patients treated with panitumumab. The EGFR G465R mutation introduces a positive charge within the overlap of the panitumumab and cetuximab epitopes. It abrogates antibody binding and mediates cross-resistance to both antibodies in EGFR G465R-transfected Ba/F3 cells. In circulating tumor DNA from an independent "liquid biopsy" cohort of 27 patients, we found this novel mutation in 1 out of 6 panitumumab-treated cases while about one third of patients show acquired RAS mutations. We show that acquired resistance by epitope-changing mutations also emerges during panitumumab treatment, which can be easily detected by a liquid biopsy approach even before clinical resistance occurs and this may help in tailoring EGFR-targeted therapies.
Keywords: EGFR antibody resistance; cetuximab; circulating tumor DNA; mutation; panitumumab.