The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is frequently de-regulated in human cancer. Melanoma in particular exhibits a high incidence of activating BRAFV600E/K and NRASQ61L/K mutations and such cells are addicted to the activity of these mutant oncoproteins. As a result three different BRAF inhibitors (BRAFi) have now been approved for BRAFV600E/K- mutant melanoma and have transformed the treatment of this disease. Despite this, clinical responses are typically transient as tumour cells develop resistance. These resistance mechanisms frequently involve reinstatement of ERK1/2 signalling and BRAFi are now deployed in combination with one of three approved MEK1/2 inhibitors (MEKi) to provide more durable, but still transient, clinical responses. Furthermore, inhibitors to ERK1/2 (ERK1/2i) have also been developed to counteract ERK1/2 signalling. However, recent studies have suggested that BRAFi/MEKi and ERK1/2i resistance can arise through activation of a parallel signalling pathway leading to activation of ERK5, an unusual protein kinase that contains both a kinase domain and a transcriptional transactivation domain. Here we review the evidence supporting ERK5 as a mediator of BRAFi/MEKi and ERK1/2i resistance. We also review the challenges in targeting ERK5 signalling with small molecules, including paradoxical activation of the transcriptional transactivation domain, and discuss new therapeutic modalities that could be employed to target ERK5.
Keywords: BRAF; ERK1/2; ERK5 MAP kinase; MEK1/2; PROTAC (proteolysis-targeting chimeric molecule); drug resisitance; kinase inhibitors; oligonucleotide therapy.
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