EPHA2 Is a Predictive Biomarker of Resistance and a Potential Therapeutic Target for Improving Antiepidermal Growth Factor Receptor Therapy in Colorectal Cancer.

Affiliation

Medical Oncology, Department of Precision Medicine, Università degli Studi della Campania L. Vanvitelli, Naples, Italy. [Email] [Email]

Abstract

The EPHA2 tyrosine kinase receptor is implicated in tumor progression and targeted therapies resistance. We evaluated EPHA2 as a potential resistance marker to the antiepidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) monoclonal antibody cetuximab in colorectal cancer. We studied activation of EPHA2 in a panel of human colorectal cancer cell lines sensitive or resistant to anti-EGFR drugs. The in vitro and in vivo effects of ALW-II-41-27 (an EPHA2 inhibitor) and/or cetuximab treatment were tested. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tumor specimens from 82 RAS wild-type (WT) metastatic colorectal cancer patients treated with FOLFIRI + cetuximab as first-line therapy in the CAPRI-GOIM trial were assessed for EPHA2 expression by immunohistochemistry and correlated with treatment efficacy. EPHA2 was differentially activated in colorectal cancer cell lines. Combined treatment with ALW-II-41-27 plus cetuximab reverted primary and acquired resistance to cetuximab, causing cell growth inhibition, inducing apoptosis and cell-cycle G1-G2 arrest. In tumor xenograft models, upon progression to cetuximab, ALW-II-41-27 addition significantly inhibited tumor growth. EPHA2 protein expression was detected in 55 of 82 tumor samples, frequently expressed in less-differentiated and left-sided tumors. High levels of EPHA2 significantly correlated with worse progression-free survival [8.6 months; confidence interval (CI) 95%, 6.4-10.8; vs. 12.3 months; CI 95%, 10.4-14.2; P = 0.03] and with increased progression rate (29% vs. 9%, P = 0.02). A specific EPHA2 inhibitor reverts in vitro and in vivo primary and acquired resistance to anti-EGFR therapy. EPHA2 levels are significantly associated with worse outcome in patients treated with FOLFIRI + cetuximab. These results highlight EPHA2 as a potential therapeutic target in metastatic colorectal cancer.

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