EGFR and MET Amplifications Determine Response to HER2 Inhibition in ERBB2-Amplified Esophagogastric Cancer

Cancer Discov. 2019 Feb;9(2):199-209. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-18-0598. Epub 2018 Nov 21.


The anti-HER2 antibody trastuzumab is standard care for advanced esophagogastric (EG) cancer with ERBB2 (HER2) amplification or overexpression, but intrinsic and acquired resistance are common. We conducted a phase II study of afatinib, an irreversible pan-HER kinase inhibitor, in trastuzumab-resistant EG cancer. We analyzed pretreatment tumor biopsies and, in select cases, performed comprehensive characterization of postmortem metastatic specimens following acquisition of drug resistance. Afatinib response was associated with coamplification of EGFR and ERBB2. Heterogeneous 89Zr-trastuzumab PET uptake was associated with genomic heterogeneity and mixed clinical response to afatinib. Resistance to afatinib was associated with selection for tumor cells lacking EGFR amplification or with acquisition of MET amplification, which could be detected in plasma cell-free DNA. The combination of afatinib and a MET inhibitor induced complete tumor regression in ERBB2 and MET coamplified patient-derived xenograft models established from a metastatic lesion progressing on afatinib. Collectively, differential intrapatient and interpatient expression of HER2, EGFR, and MET may determine clinical response to HER kinase inhibitors in ERBB2-amplified EG cancer. SIGNIFICANCE: Analysis of patients with ERBB2-amplified, trastuzumab-resistant EG cancer who were treated with the HER kinase inhibitor afatinib revealed that sensitivity and resistance to therapy were associated with EGFR/ERBB2 coamplification and MET amplification, respectively. HER2-directed PET imaging and cell-free DNA sequencing could help guide strategies to overcome the emergence of resistant clones.See related commentary by Klempner and Catenacci, p. 166.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 151.

Trial registration: NCT01522768.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afatinib / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Esophagogastric Junction / pathology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gene Amplification*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Prognosis
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met / genetics*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / genetics*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Stomach Neoplasms / genetics
  • Stomach Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Stomach Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Trastuzumab / administration & dosage


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Afatinib
  • EGFR protein, human
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • MET protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-met
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Trastuzumab

Associated data