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Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2014 Jun;15(9):1277-88. doi: 10.1517/14656566.2014.913570. Epub 2014 Apr 30.

New protein kinase inhibitors in breast cancer: afatinib and neratinib.

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  • 1University of California , 1600 Divisadero, San Francisco, 94143, CA , USA.



Human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER) 2 is overexpressed in 20 - 25% of breast cancers, and has historically been a poor prognostic marker. The introduction of trastuzumab, the first fully humanized monoclonal antibody targeting HER2, has drastically changed the outcomes of metastatic breast cancers. However, despite initial response, most patients develop resistance. Recent data suggest that strategies targeting more than one member of HER family may circumvent trastuzumab resistance and confer synergistic effects.


Following a literature search on PubMed, national meetings and using 'afatinib', 'neratinib', 'HER2' and 'breast cancer' as keywords, we critically analyzed the different HER2-targeted therapies for their drug development and evidence-based therapeutic strategies. Afatinib and neratinib, two second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) that irreversibly inhibit more than one HER family member, are being actively investigated in clinical trials either as monotherapy or in combination. We reviewed the efficacy and optimal use of these agents in various settings, such as systemic therapy for advanced breast cancer including brain metastases, and neoadjuvant therapy in early-stage breast cancer.


HER2-targeted therapies have been widely used and greatly improved the outcome of HER2-positive breast cancer. Despite the accelerated advancement in recent years, several crucial questions remain unanswered, such as how to treat a prior resistance or affect a sanctuary site, that is, CNS metastasis. The novel next-generation TKIs, afatinib and neratinib, were rationally designed to overcome the resistance by targeting multiple HER family members and irreversibly binding the targets. In spite of the encouraging results of the afatinib and neratinib monotherapies, they have not been proven more efficacious in the combination therapies yet, even though multicenter international trials are still ongoing. The key tasks in the future are to study resistance pathways, design novel strategies to more efficiently test combinations for synergistic effects and identify biomarkers and novel imaging tools to guide individualized therapies.


HER2; afatinib; breast cancer; human epidermal growth factor receptor; neratinib; tyrosine kinase receptor inhibitor

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