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Cancer Res. 2004 Oct 15;64(20):7491-9.

Gefitinib enhances the antitumor activity and oral bioavailability of irinotecan in mice.

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  • 1Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.


As a single agent the ERBB1 inhibitor, gefitinib (Iressa; ZD1839) showed minimal activity against a panel of 10 pediatric tumor xenografts that do not express the ERBB1 receptor. However, combined with irinotecan (CPT-11), significantly greater than additive activity was observed in four of eight models (P < 0.05), and the combination showed enhanced activity against three additional tumor lines. Breast cancer resistance protein (ABCG2), a transporter that confers resistance to SN-38 (the active metabolite of irinotecan), was readily detected in six of nine xenograft models examined by immunohistochemistry. In vitro gefitinib potently reversed resistance to SN-38 only in a cell line that overexpressed functional ABCG2. However, overexpression of ABCG2 did not decrease accumulation nor increase the rate of efflux of [(14)C]gefitinib. On the basis of these results and the distribution of Abcg2 in mouse tissues, we assessed the ability of gefitinib to modulate irinotecan pharmacokinetics. Oral gefitinib coadministration resulted in no change in clearance of intravenously administered irinotecan. However, gefitinib treatment dramatically increased the oral bioavailability of irinotecan after simultaneous oral administration. It is concluded that gefitinib may modulate SN-38 activity at the cellular level to reverse tumor resistance mediated by ABCG2 through inhibiting drug efflux and may be used potentially in humans to modulate the oral bioavailability of a poorly absorbed camptothecin such as irinotecan.

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