Overcoming acquired resistance against targeted therapies to improve outcomes of lung cancer patients harboring driver mutations is a critical issue. While drug therapy oriented to a resistance mechanism appears attractive, spatial heterogeneity of resistance mechanisms in each patient will diminish treatment efficacy. However, the frequency, clinical backgrounds, clinical implications, and patterns of spatial heterogeneity in resistance mechanisms to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are largely unknown.
This study included 128 specimens from 24 autopsied patients with lung adenocarcinoma harboring EGFR mutation. Acquired resistance mechanisms reported as relatively frequent in lung cancer, e.g., T790 M and other secondary EGFR mutations, MET and ERBB2 gene amplification, and histological transformation, were retrospectively examined. All patients had received 1st/2nd generation EGFR-TKI and showed acquired resistance to the drug before death. No patient received osimertinib.
No resistance mechanism was identified in two patients. T790M mutation was detected in 20 patients (83 %); however, nine of these patients also had lesions without T790M mutation. Among 22 patients whose resistance mechanisms were identified, ten had spatial heterogeneity of resistance mechanisms (45 %), and these patients had significantly shorter time-to-treatment failure compared with those without heterogeneity (median 4.7 months vs. 14.7 months, p = 0.0004).
We observed significant spatial heterogeneity of acquired resistance mechanisms to EGFR-TKIs in lung adenocarcinoma. Our results also indicate that the incidence of resistance mechanisms may vary based on the biopsied tumor locations.

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