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Profiling and targeting HER2-positive breast cancer using trastuzumab emtansine



This article reviews the mechanism of action of trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1), existing clinical data relating to its use for human growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer, potential pathways of resistance, and ongoing studies evaluating this novel agent.


The development of HER2-targeted therapies has dramatically improved clinical outcomes for patients with any stage of HER2-positive breast cancer. Although the positive effect of these treatments cannot be overstated, treatment resistance develops in the vast majority of those diagnosed with stage IV HER2-positive breast cancer. Moreover, HER2-directed therapies are most effective when combined with cytotoxic chemotherapy. The need for chemotherapy leads to significant adverse effects and a clear decrease in quality of life for those dealing with a chronic incurable disease. T-DM1 is a recently developed, novel antibody-drug conjugate in which highly potent maytanisinoid chemotherapy is stably linked to the HER2-targeted monoclonal antibody, trastuzumab.


Preclinical and phase 1-3 clinical data support the significant antitumor activity of T-DM1. Importantly, several randomized studies also now demonstrate its clear superiority in terms of tolerability compared with standard chemotherapy-containing regimens. Its role in the treatment of trastuzumab-resistant metastatic breast cancer has now been established on the basis of the results of two phase 3 randomized studies, EMILIA (An Open-label Study of Trastuzumab Emtansine (T-DM1) vs Capecitabine + Lapatinib in Patients With HER2-positive Locally Advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer) and TH3RESA (A Study of Trastuzumab Emtansine in Comparison With Treatment of Physician's Choice in Patients With HER2-positive Breast Cancer Who Have Received at Least Two Prior Regimens of HER2-directed Therapy). The most common toxicities seen with T-DM1 are thrombocytopenia and an elevation in liver transaminases. Significant cardiac toxicity has not been demonstrated. Both in vitro cell line-based studies as well as exploratory analyses of archived tumor samples from the clinical trials are seeking to understand potential mechanisms of resistance to T-DM1. Ongoing studies are also evaluating the use of T-DM1 in the first-line metastatic, neoadjuvant, and adjuvant settings, as well as in combination with other targeted therapies.


T-DM1 represents the first successfully developed antibody drug conjugate for the treatment of HER2-positive advanced breast cancer.

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