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PLoS One. 2017 Jul 19;12(7):e0181356. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181356. eCollection 2017.

ErbB activation signatures as potential biomarkers for anti-ErbB3 treatment in HNSCC.

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Kolltan Pharmaceuticals., New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.
Monogram Biosciences, Laboratory Corporation of America® Holdings, South San Francisco, California, United States of America.
Yale Pathology Tissue Services, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) accounts for 3-5% of all tumor types and remains an unmet medical need with only two targeted therapies approved to date. ErbB3 (HER3), the kinase-impaired member of the EGFR/ErbB family, has been implicated as a disease driver in a number of solid tumors, including a subset of HNSCC. Here we show that the molecular components required for ErbB3 activation, including its ligand neuregulin-1 (NRG1), are highly prevalent in HNSCC and that HER2, but not EGFR, is the major activating ErbB3 kinase partner. We demonstrate that cetuximab treatment primarily inhibits the ERK signaling pathway and KTN3379, an anti-ErbB3 monoclonal antibody, inhibits the AKT signaling pathway, and that dual ErbB receptor inhibition results in enhanced anti-tumor activity in HNSCC models. Surprisingly, we found that while NRG1 is required for ErbB3 activation, it was not sufficient to fully predict for KTN3379 activity. An evaluation of HNSCC patient samples demonstrated that NRG1 expression was significantly associated with expression of the EGFR ligands amphiregulin (AREG) and transforming growth factor α (TGFα). Furthermore, NRG1-positive HNSCC cell lines that secreted high levels of AREG and TGFα or contained high levels of EGFR homodimers (H11D) demonstrated a better response to KTN3379. Although ErbB3 and EGFR activation are uncoupled at the receptor level, their respective signaling pathways are linked through co-expression of their respective ligands. We propose that NRG1 expression and EGFR activation signatures may enrich for improved efficacy of anti-ErbB3 therapeutic mAb approaches when combined with EGFR-targeting therapies in HNSCC.

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