The epidermal growth factor (EGF) family of receptor tyrosine kinases consists of four members: EGFR (HER1/ErbB1), HER2/neu (ErbB2), HER3 (ErbB3) and HER4 (ErbB4). Receptor activation via ligand binding leads to downstream signaling that influence cell proliferation, angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis. Aberrant expression or activity of EGFR and HER2 have been strongly linked to the etiology of several human epithelial cancers including but not limited to head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), colorectal cancer (CRC), and breast cancer. With this, intense efforts have been made to inhibit the activity of the EGFR and HER2 by designing antibodies against the ligand binding domains (cetuximab, panitumumab and trastuzumab) or small molecules against the tyrosine kinase domains (erlotinib, gefitinib, and lapatinib). Both approaches have shown considerable clinical promise. However, increasing evidence suggests that the majority of patients do not respond to these therapies, and those who show initial response ultimately become refractory to treatment. While mechanisms of resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors have been extensively studied, resistance to monoclonal antibodies is less well understood, both in the laboratory and in the clinical setting. In this review, we discuss resistance to antibody-based therapies against the EGFR and HER2, similarities between these resistance profiles, and strategies to overcome resistance to HER family targeting monoclonal antibody therapy.
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