Affiliation: Division of Medical Oncology A Istituto Nazionale per la Ricerca sul Cancro Largo R. Benzi 10,16132 Genova, Italy.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide. Current treatment modalities, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, provide only limited improvement in the natural course of this disease. Therefore, the development of new therapeutic strategies is highly awaited. This review focuses on recent achievements on a novel class of anticancer drugs targeting the EGFR (Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor). The EGFR family is a group of four structurally similar growth factor receptors with tyrosine-kinase activity (EGFR, HER2 / neu, ErbB-3, ErbB-4), which dimerize upon binding with a number of ligands, including EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor) and TGF (Transforming Growth Factor), allowing downstream transduction of mitogenic signals. Overexpression of EGFR and HER2 is frequently found in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for over 80% of all malignant lung tumors, and has been associated with a worse clinical outcome. New agents developed to inhibit EGFR function include monoclonal antibodies and small-molecule receptor tyrosine-kinase inhibitors. In this review, results of most recent clinical with EGFR inhibitors including monoclonal antibodies, such as Trastuzumab (Herceptin), IMC-C225 (Cetuximab) and others (ABX-EGF, EMD 72000), and tyrosine-kinase inhibitors, such as ZD1839 (Gefitinib, Iressa), OSI-774 (Erlotinib, Tarceva) and others (CI-1033, GW2016), are summarized. In particular, final results of phase II (IDEAL 1 and 2) and III (INTACT 1 and 2) studies of ZD1839 are reported. In IDEAL trials (ZD1839 single agent in patients pre-treated with chemotherapy) there was clear evidence of tumor regression, symptoms improvement and overall clinical benefit, whereas in the two INTACT trials (ZD1839 in combination with standard platinum-based chemotherapy in chemo-naive patients) ZD1839 did not improve either survival or other clinical endpoints. Possible explanations for these contradictory results and future perspectives are discussed.