Human carcinomas frequently express high levels of receptors in the EGF receptor family, and overexpression of at least two of these receptors, the EGF receptor (EGFr) and closely related ErbB2, has been associated with a more aggressive clinical behavior. Further, transfection or activation of high levels of these two receptors in nonmalignant cell lines can lead to a transformed phenotype. For these reasons, EGFR inhibitiors directed at preventing the function of these receptors have the potential to be useful for EGF treatment in cancer.
In the last two decades monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) which inhibit activation of the EGFr and ErbB2 have been developed. These MAbs have shown promising preclinical activity and 'chimeric' and 'humanized' MAbs have been produced in order to obviate the problem of host immune reactions. Clinical activity with these antibodies has been documented: trastuzumab, a humanized anti-ErbB2 MAb, is active and was recently approved in combination with paclitaxel for the treatment of patients with metastatic ErbB2-overexpressing breast cancer; IMC-C225, a chimeric anti-EGFr MAb, has shown impressive activity when combined with radiation treatment and reverses resistance to chemotherapy.
In addition to antibodies, compounds that directly inhibit receptor tyrosine kinases have shown preclinical activity and early clinical activity has been reported. A series of phase III studies with these antibodies and direct tyrosine kinase inhibitors are ongoing or planned, and will further address the role of these active anti-receptor agents in the treatment of patients with cancer.