Current Knowledge about Mechanisms of Drug Resistance against ALK Inhibitors in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Feb 9;13(4):699. doi: 10.3390/cancers13040699.


Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for the majority of lung cancer subtypes. Two to seven percent of NSCLC patients harbor gene rearrangements of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene or, alternatively, harbor chromosomal fusions of ALK with echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4 (EML4). The availability of tyrosine kinase inhibitors targeting ALK (ALK-TKIs) has significantly improved the progression-free and overall survival of NSCLC patients carrying the respective genetic aberrations. Yet, increasing evidence shows that primary or secondary resistance to ALK-inhibitors during the course of treatment represents a relevant clinical problem. This necessitates a switch to second- or third-generation ALK-TKIs and a close observation of NSCLC patients on ALK-TKIs during the course of treatment by repetitive molecular testing. With this review of the literature, we aim at providing an overview of current knowledge about resistance mechanisms to ALK-TKIs in NSCLC.

Keywords: ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors; acquired resistance mechanisms; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; non-small cell lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Review