Inhibition of HER2 in HER2-amplified breast cancer has been remarkably successful clinically, as demonstrated by the efficacy of HER-kinase inhibitors and HER2-antibody treatments. Whilst resistance to HER2 inhibition is common in the metastatic setting, the specific programs downstream of HER2 driving resistance are not established. Through genomic profiling of 733 HER2-amplified breast cancers, we identify enrichment of somatic alterations that promote MEK/ERK signaling in metastatic tumors with shortened progression-free survival on anti-HER2 therapy. These mutations, including NF1 loss and ERBB2 activating mutations, are sufficient to mediate resistance to FDA-approved HER2 kinase inhibitors including tucatinib and neratinib. Moreover, resistant tumors lose AKT dependence while undergoing a dramatic sensitization to MEK/ERK inhibition. Mechanistically, this driver pathway switch is a result of MEK-dependent activation of CDK2 kinase. These results establish genetic activation of MAPK as a recurrent mechanism of anti-HER2 therapy resistance that may be effectively combated with MEK/ERK inhibitors.
© 2021. The Author(s).