We have recently reported that in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, neoadjuvant targeted therapy with lapatinib and trastuzumab to more completely block the HER receptor layer, combined with endocrine therapy (in ER-positive tumors) and without chemotherapy led to a substantial 27% pathologic complete response (pCR) rate in the breast. Activation of downstream signaling pathways may lead to resistance to therapies targeting the HER pathway receptors. Aberrant activation of the PI3K pathway via decreased levels of PTEN and/or the presence of activating PIK3CA mutations has been implicated in resistance to targeted anti-HER2 therapy, but results of clinical trials are all confounded by the co-administration of chemotherapy and are inconsistent. We sought to clarify the role of these variables in predicting pCR, a surrogate for long-term outcome, in patients treated with potent targeted therapy alone in a prospective Phase II neoadjuvant trial in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Patients with large tumors (median 6 cm) were given 12 weeks of lapatinib plus trastuzumab followed by surgery (Rimawi et al. JCO, 2013). Serial tissue biopsies were obtained from study participants. For this study, we focused on baseline pre-treatment characteristics. PTEN protein levels were measured by IHC and scored using the H-score. PIK3CA mutations were identified on extracted DNA using multiplex PCR with targeted next generation sequencing (the Ion Torrent 50-gene cancer mutation panel).

Of 64 evaluable patients, tissue was available on 59 for PTEN IHC, and sufficient DNA was available on 33 for the mutation panel. PTEN median H-score was 100 (range 0-300). PTEN status when dichotomized by the median was correlated with pCR (32% in high PTEN vs. 9% in low PTEN, p = 0.04). Activating PIK3CA mutations were identified in 12 out of 33 tumors (36%; 3 mutations in the helical and 9 in the catalytic domain) and were independent of ER status. None of the patients whose tumors harbored a PIK3CA mutation achieved pCR (p = 0.06). There was no association between PTEN status and PIK3CA mutation suggesting they are independent variables (p = 0.44). When PIK3CA mutations were considered together with PTEN status, there were 31 cases with data on both. The overall pCR rate in this cohort was 16% (lower than pCR rate observed in the overall trial). However, 0/17 cases (0%) with a mutation and/or PTEN low expression (<100 H score) had a pCR compared to 5/14 cases (36%) with PI3KCA wild type and high PTEN levels (p = 0.01).

We conclude that PI3K pathway activation downstream of HER2 as a result of either low PTEN or activating PIK3CA mutation results in resistance to the combination of lapatinib and trastuzumab. This is the first report on patient tissue samples from a neoadjuvant trial using the combination of lapatinib and trastuzumab without chemotherapy. If validated in a larger cohort, our findings suggest that patients with HER2 positive tumors and who also harbor aberrant downstream PI3K pathway activation may benefit from the addition of PI3K/Akt/mTOR inhibitors to potent HER2 blockade.

Citation Information: Cancer Res 2013;73(24 Suppl): Abstract nr PD1-2.