Biomarker-guided sequential targeted therapies to overcome therapy resistance in rapidly evolving highly aggressive mammary tumors
Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
Molecular Targeted Therapy
Combinatorial targeted therapies are more effective in treating cancer by blocking by-pass mechanisms or inducing synthetic lethality. However, their clinical application is hampered by resistance and toxicity. To meet this important challenge, we developed and tested a novel concept of biomarker-guided sequential applications of various targeted therapies using ErbB2-overexpressing/PTEN-low, highly aggressive breast cancer as our model. Strikingly, sustained activation of ErbB2 and downstream pathways drives trastuzumab resistance in both PTEN-low/trastuzumab-resistant breast cancers from patients and mammary tumors with intratumoral heterogeneity from genetically-engineered mice. Although lapatinib initially inhibited trastuzumab-resistant mouse tumors, tumors by-passed the inhibition by activating the PI3K/mTOR signaling network as shown by the quantitative protein arrays. Interestingly, activation of the mTOR pathway was also observed in neoadjuvant lapatinib-treated patients manifesting lapatinib resistance. Trastuzumab + lapatinib resistance was effectively overcome by sequential application of a PI3K/mTOR dual kinase inhibitor (BEZ235) with no significant toxicity. However, our p-RTK array analysis demonstrated that BEZ235 treatment led to increased ErbB2 expression and phosphorylation in genetically-engineered mouse tumors and in 3-D, but not 2-D, culture, leading to BEZ235 resistance. Mechanistically, we identified ErbB2 protein stabilization and activation as a novel mechanism of BEZ235 resistance, which was reversed by subsequent treatment with lapatinib + BEZ235 combination. Remarkably, this sequential application of targeted therapies guided by biomarker changes in the tumors rapidly evolving resistance doubled the life-span of mice bearing exceedingly aggressive tumors. This fundamentally novel approach of using targeted therapies in a sequential order can effectively target and reprogram the signaling networks in cancers evolving resistance during treatment.