Background: Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR, HER1) is known to heterodimerize with HER2 and may impact the effectiveness of trastuzumab. Historically, EGFR has been difficult to measure; thus there is no evidence regarding its effects on trastuzumab clinical therapy. Here we use a new, standardized, quantitative immunofluorescence assay and a novel EGFR antibody to evaluate the correlation between EGFR expression and clinical outcome in a cohort from the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG, Alliance) N9831 trial.

Methods: Of the 3505 women in the N9831 trial, tissue microarrays were constructed that allowed analysis of 1,444 patients randomly assigned to receive chemotherapy alone (Arm A), sequential trastuzumab after chemotherapy (Arm B) or concurrent trastuzumab with chemotherapy (Arm C). Fluorescence-based, standardized measurement of EGFR was done using the rabbit monoclonal EGFR antibody D38B1 on the AQUA platform (HistoRx). EGFR expression levels were analyzed as a continuous variable and dichotomized using recursive partitioning to define an optimal cut point. The cut point was validated on an independent retrospective cohort comprised of 130 patients with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer who received trastuzumab.

Results: EGFR assessed as a continuous variable shows an association with disease free survival (DFS) in Arm C (p = 0.002) but not in Arms A or B. Dichotomizing EGFR expression shows that high level expression is associated with worse outcome (HR = 2.2; 95% CI 1.33–3.59, p = 0.002) in arm C. Five year DFS within the low level EGFR expression group was 71%, 74% and 90% for Arms A, B and C, respectively (log-rank p-value=0.02) and within the high level EGFR expression (n = 213) group was 62%, 76% and 74% respectively (log-rank p-value 0.22). As validation, the same cut-point was used to define high EGFR expression in a retrospective metastatic breast cancer cohort. The median progression free survival difference between EGFR high group and EGFR low group was 6.1 months (p = 0.0063) and the hazard ratio of high EGFR was 1.92 (p = 0.0073).

Conclusions: High expression of EGFR by the AQUA platform appears to be associated with decreased benefit from adjuvant concurrent (not sequential) trastuzumab and shorter PFS in the metastatic setting. The biological underpinning for these observations is being considered. Since there are other treatment options for HER2-driven tumors, this marker, once validated, could help select patients for alternative or additive therapy.

Citation Information: Cancer Res 2012;72(24 Suppl):Abstract nr S5-4.