The role of ERBB3 inhibitors as cancers therapeutics
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Cancer is the most fatal disease after cardiovascular disease with over 8.2 million deaths worldwide each year. Ever since the serendipitous discovery of mustard gas as an anti-cancer therapeutic in the 1940s, serious efforts have been put into discovering more chemotherapies. Chemotherapies can be categorized into different groups such as alkylating agents (cisplatin, cyclophosphamide), antimetabolites (5-fluorouracil, Ara-C) and mitotic inhibitors (taxanes, vinca alkoids) among others. While chemotherapies have proven to kill cancer cells by targeting cell division processes, over time, tumor cells can adapt and become resistant to these drugs. With a growing understanding of cell signaling networks, targeted therapies are being developed to overcome the issue of chemotherapy resistance. Targeted therapies are highly specific molecules that bind to a specific cellular protein or molecule and block signaling networks associated with biological processes. One of the most frequently dysregulated receptor systems in cancers is the receptor tyrosine kinase family with ErbB being one of the most studied receptors families. ErbB or HER receptors consists of four structurally related receptor tyrosine kinases namely, EGFR/ErbB1, HER2/ErbB2, HER3/ErbB3 and HER4/ErbB4. The ErbB family of receptors plays a major role in morphogenesis of the human body as well as various cellular responses such as cell growth, differentiation and proliferation. Overexpression and dysregulation of these receptors, particularly EGFR and HER2, have been linked to a number of cancers such as breast cancer, gastric cancer, ovarian cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, to name a few. One of the most successful therapies against ErbB related cancers have been targeted therapies. Targeted therapies for ErbB related cancers are of two kinds: (i) Small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors (such as erlotinib and gefitinib against EGFR) and, (ii) Monoclonal antibodies (such as trastuzumab against HER2 and cetuximab against EGFR). These drugs function either by inhibiting the kinase activity of the receptor and preventing phosophorylation of tyrosine residues, or binding to some other site on the extracellular domain of the receptor and preventing ligand binding and heterodimerization of ErbB monomers. These drugs have proven to have limited efficacy as monotherapy, but are more effective in combination with standard chemotherapies. However, tumor cells can adapt their signaling networks developing resistance to targeted therapies over the course of treatment and lead to cancer progression. While overexpression and dysfunction of EGFR and HER2 are implicated in most ErbB driven cancers, recent studies have found HER3 playing a pivotal role in inducing resistance to EGFR and HER2 targeted therapies in various cancers and has been found to be the most sensitive node in driving the PI3K pathway leading to tumorigenesis. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop drugs targeted against HER3 and bring them into the clinic. Since HER3 lacks kinase activity, only monoclonal antibodies can be developed against it. Currently, there are a number of molecules in clinical development that target HER3. For example, patritumab and MM-121 are humanized monoclonal antibodies that target the extracellular domain of HER3 receptor and leads to inhibition of HER3-PI3K signaling followed by rapid internalization of the receptor. MM-111 and MM-141, two different bispecific monoclonal antibodies that bind to HER2, HER3 and IGFR-1, HER3, respectively, are currently in clinical development. HER3 inhibitors provide hope to effectively overcome HER3 induced tumor resistance and successfully treat several ErbB driven cancers. However, further development of HER3 inhibitors is necessary by taking strategic approaches. One of these approaches it the utilization of systems biology, a branch of biology that involves computational and mathematical modeling of complex biological systems with the aim of discovering emergent properties of biological systems. Systems biology enables researchers to get a deeper understanding of biological networks such as that of ErbB and make predictive models and test outcomes. This approach was used by Merrimack Pharmaceuticals to develop novel monoclonal antibodies against HER3. Computational outcomes were successfully validated by in vitro and in vivo experiments. Thus, this suggests that systems biology might be the future of designing and developing HER3 inhibitors that would successfully overcome HER3 resistance and cancer progression.