Pure estrogen receptor antagonists potentiate capecitabine activity in ESR1-mutant breast cancer

NPJ Breast Cancer. 2024 Jun 8;10(1):42. doi: 10.1038/s41523-024-00647-1.


The ESR1 ligand binding domain activating mutations are the most prevalent genetic mechanism of acquired endocrine resistance in metastatic hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. These mutations confer endocrine resistance that remains estrogen receptor (ER) dependent. We hypothesized that in the presence of the ER mutations, continued ER blockade with endocrine therapies that target mutant ER is essential for tumor suppression even with chemotherapy treatment. Here, we conducted comprehensive pre-clinical in vitro and in vivo experiments testing the efficacy of adding fulvestrant to fluorouracil (5FU) and the 5FU pro-drug, capecitabine, in models of wild-type (WT) and mutant ER. Our findings revealed that while this combination had an additive effect in the presence of WT-ER, in the presence of the Y537S ER mutation there was synergy. Notably, these effects were not seen with the combination of 5FU and selective estrogen receptor modulators, such as tamoxifen, or in the absence of intact P53. Likewise, in a patient-derived xenograft (PDX) harboring a Y537S ER mutation the addition of fulvestrant to capecitabine potentiated tumor suppression. Moreover, multiplex immunofluorescence revealed that this effect was due to decreased cell proliferation in all cells expressing ER and was not dependent on the degree of ER expression. Taken together, these results support the clinical investigation of the combination of ER antagonists with capecitabine in patients with metastatic hormone receptor-positive breast cancer who have experienced progression on endocrine therapy and targeted therapies, particularly in the presence of an ESR1 activating mutation.