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H E Jones, J M W Gee, K M Taylor, D Barrow, H D Williams, M Rubini, and R I Nicholson

Aberrant signalling through the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is associated with increased cancer cell proliferation, reduced apoptosis, invasion and angiogenesis. Over-expression of the EGFR is seen in a variety of tumours and is a rational target for antitumour strategies. Among the classes of agent targeting the EGFR are small-molecule inhibitors, which include gefitinib (IRESSA™), which acts by preventing EGFR phosphorylation and downstream signal transduction. De novo and acquired resistance, however, have been reported to gefitinib and here we describe evidence which indicates that the type II receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) insulin-like growth factor-I receptor (IGF-IR) and/or insulin receptor (InsR) play important roles in the mediation of responses to gefitinib in the de novo- and acquired-resistance phenotypes in several cancer types. Moreover, combination strategies that additionally target the IGF-IR/InsR can enhance the antitumour effects of gefitinib.

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R I Nicholson, I R Hutcheson, S E Hiscox, J M Knowlden, M Giles, D Barrow, and J M W Gee

De novo insensitivity and acquired resistance to the selective oestrogen receptor modulator tamoxifen and the pure anti-oestrogen fulvestrant (faslodex) severely limit their effectiveness in breast cancer patients. This is a major clinical problem, since each year upward of 1 million women are dispensed anti-oestrogenic drugs. In order to investigate the phenomenon of anti-oestrogen resistance and to rapidly screen drugs that target the resistance mechanism(s), we have previously established several in vitro breast cancer models that have acquired resistance to anti-hormones. Such cells commonly develop an ability to proliferate after approximately 3 months of exposure to 4-hydroxytamoxifen or fulvestrant, despite an initial endocrine-responsive (i.e. growth-suppressive) phase. The current paper explores the role that growth factor signalling plays in the transition of oestrogen receptor-positive endocrine-responsive breast cancer cells to anti-oestrogen resistance or insensitivity and how we might, in the future, most effectively use anti-growth factor therapies to treat or delay endocrine-resistant states.

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R I Nicholson, I R Hutcheson, M E Harper, J M Knowlden, D Barrow, R A McClelland, H E Jones, A E Wakeling, and J M Gee

There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating that growth factor networks are highly interactive with oestrogen receptor (ER) signalling in the control of breast cancer growth. As such, tumour responses to anti- hormones are likely to be a composite of the ER and growth factor inhibitory activity of these agents. The current article examines the modulation of growth factor networks during endocrine response, and presents in vitro and clinical evidence that epidermal growth factor receptor signalling, maintained in either an ER-dependent or -independent manner, is critical to anti- hormonal-resistant breast cancer cell growth. The considerable potential of the epidermal growth factor receptor-selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor, ZD 1839 (Iressa; AstraZeneca) to efficiently treat, and perhaps even prevent, endocrine-resistant breast cancer is highlighted.

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H E Jones, L Goddard, J M W Gee, S Hiscox, M Rubini, D Barrow, J M Knowlden, S Williams, A E Wakeling, and R I Nicholson

De novo and acquired resistance to the anti-tumour drug gefitinib (ZD1839; Iressa), a specific epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) has been reported. We have determined whether signalling through the IGF-I receptor (IGF-1R) pathway plays a role in the gefitinib-acquired resistance phenotype. Continuous exposure of EGFR-positive MCF-7-derived tamoxifen resistant breast cancer cells (TAM-R) to 1 μM gefitinib resulted in a sustained growth inhibition (90%) for 4 months before the surviving cells resumed proliferation. A stable gefitinib-resistant subline (TAM/TKI-R) was established after a further 2 months and this showed no detectable basal phosphorylated EGFR activity. Compared with the parental TAM-R cells, the TAM/ TKI-R cells demonstrated (a) elevated levels of activated IGF-1R, AKT and protein kinase C (PKC)δ, (b) an increased sensitivity to growth inhibition by the IGF-1R TKI AG1024 and (c) an increased migratory capacity that was reduced by AG1024 treatment. Similarly, the EGFR-positive androgen-independent human prostate cancer cell line DU145 was also continuously challenged with 1 μM gefitinib and, although substantial growth inhibition (60%) was seen initially, a gefitinib-resistant variant (DU145/TKI-R) developed after 3 months. Like their breast cancer counterparts, the DU145/TKI-R cells showed increases in the levels of components of the IGF-1R signalling pathway and an elevated sensitivity to growth inhibition by AG1024 compared with the parent DU145 cell line. Additionally, DU145/TKI-R cell migration was also decreased by this inhibitor. We have therefore concluded that in breast and prostate cancer cells acquired resistance to gefitinib is associated with increased signalling via the IGF-1R pathway, which also plays a role in the invasive capacity of the gefitinib-resistant phenotype.