Most non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors with an activating mutation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) are initially responsive to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) such as gefitinib but ultimately develop resistance to these drugs. Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) induces EGFR-TKI resistance in NSCLC cells with such a mutation. We investigated strategies to overcome gefitinib resistance induced by HGF. Human NSCLC cells with an activating EGFR mutation (HCC827 cells) were engineered to stably express HGF (HCC827-HGF cells). HCC827-HGF cells secreted large amounts of HGF and exhibited resistance to gefitinib in vitro to an extent similar to that of HCC827 GR cells, in which the gene for the HGF receptor MET is amplified. A MET-TKI reversed gefitinib resistance in HCC827-HGF cells as well as in HCC827 GR cells, suggesting that MET activation induces gefitinib resistance in both cell lines. TAK-701, a humanized monoclonal antibody to HGF, in combination with gefitinib inhibited the phosphorylation of MET, EGFR, extracellular signal-regulated kinase, and AKT in HCC827-HGF cells, resulting in suppression of cell growth and indicating that autocrine HGF-MET signaling contributes to gefitinib resistance in these cells. Combination therapy with TAK-701 and gefitinib also markedly inhibited the growth of HCC827-HGF tumors in vivo. The addition of TAK-701 to gefitinib is a promising strategy to overcome EGFR-TKI resistance induced by HGF in NSCLC with an activating EGFR mutation.
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