The extracellular-signal-regulated kinases (ERK1 and ERK2) represent an essential node within the RAS/RAF/MEK/ERK signaling cascade that commonly is activated by oncogenic mutations in BRAF or RAS or by upstream oncogenic signaling, such as receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) activation. While targeting upstream nodes with RAF and MEK inhibitors has proven effective clinically, resistance frequently develops through reactivation of the pathway. Simultaneous targeting of multiple nodes in the pathway, such as MEK and ERK, offers the prospect of enhanced efficacy as well as reduced potential for acquired resistance. Here, we present the discovery and characterization of GDC-0994, an orally bioavailable, small molecule inhibitor of ERK kinase activity. GDC-0994 is highly selective for ERK1 and ERK2, with biochemical potency of 1.1 nM and 0.3 nM, respectively. Daily, oral dosing of GDC-0994 results in significant single-agent activity in multiple in vivo cancer models, including KRAS-mutant and BRAF-mutant human xenograft tumors in mice. PD biomarker inhibition of phospho-p90RSK in these tumors correlates with potency in vitro and in vivo. In contrast to other published ERK inhibitors, GDC-0994 neither increases nor decreases phospho-ERK, suggesting that different ERK inhibitors have alternative mechanisms of action with respect to feedback signaling. Furthermore, we demonstrate a novel approach for targeting the oncogenic signaling through the RAS pathway by combining ERK and MEK inhibitors. GDC-0994 is currently in Phase I clinical development.

Citation Format: Kirk Robarge, Jacob Schwarz, Jim Blake, Michael Burkard, Jocelyn Chan, Huifen Chen, Kang-Jye Chou, Dolores Diaz, John Gaudino, Stephen Gould, Jonas Grina, Xin Linghu, Lichuan Liu, Matthew Martinson, David A. Moreno, Christine Orr, Patricia Pacheco, Ann Qin, Kevin Rasor, Li Ren, Sheerin Shahidi-Latham, Jeffrey Stults, Francis Sullivan, Weiru Wang, Peter Yin, Aihe Zhou, Marcia Belvin, Mark Merchant, John G. Moffat. Discovery of GDC-0994, a potent and selective ERK1/2 inhibitor in early clinical development. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2014 Apr 5-9; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2014;74(19 Suppl):Abstract nr DDT02-03. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2014-DDT02-03