An EGFR-Induced Drosophila Lung Tumor Model Identifies Alternative Combination Treatments

Mol Cancer Ther. 2019 Sep;18(9):1659-1668. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-19-0168. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-associated mortality. Mutations in the EGFR gene are among the most important inducers of lung tumor development, but success of personalized therapies is still limited because of toxicity or developing resistances. We expressed constitutively active EGFR (EGFRCA) exclusively in the airway system of Drosophila melanogaster and performed comprehensive phenotyping. Ectopic expression of EGFRCA induced massive hyper- and metaplasia, leading to early death. We used the lethal phenotype as a readout and screened a library of FDA-approved compounds and found that among the 1,000 compounds, only the tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) afatinib, gefitinib, and ibrutinib rescued lethality in a whole-animal screening approach. Furthermore, we screened the library in the presence of a subtherapeutic afatinib dose and identified bazedoxifene as a synergistically acting compound that rescues EGFR-induced lethality. Our findings highlight the potential of Drosophila-based whole-animal screening approaches not only to identify specific EGFR inhibitors but also to discover compounds that act synergistically with known TKIs. Moreover, we showed that targeting the EGFR together with STAT-signaling is a promising strategy for lung tumor treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Drug Synergism
  • ErbB Receptors / genetics*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Trachea / drug effects
  • Trachea / metabolism


  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Indoles
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors
  • bazedoxifene