Rationale and clinical validation of epidermal growth factor receptor as a target in the treatment of head and neck cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recurrent/metastatic head and neck cancer is an area of high, unmet treatment need. There is a strong rationale for targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in head and neck cancer as most of these tumors express high levels of EGFR relative to normal tissue, with high expression correlating with poor patient outcome. This rationale has been validated in extensive preclinical studies. Two small molecules with EGFR inhibitory activity, gefitinib ('Iressa', ZD1839) and erlotinib ('Tarceva', OSI-774), and a humanized monoclonal antibody against the EGFR extracellular domain, cetuximab ('Erbitux', C225), are in clinical trials for advanced head and neck cancer. The initial results of these trials are promising. Gefitinib and erlotinib show activity as monotherapy in patients with recurrent or metastatlc head and neck cancer, and have an acceptable safety profile compared with conventional chemotherapy. Gefitinib, which can be given at doses below the maximum tolerated dose, is associated with slightly lower rates of adverse events than erlotinib, which is dosed at the maximum tolerated dose. Combinations of cetuximab with radiotherapy or platinum-based chemotherapy have also shown activity in phase I/II studies. Both gefitinib and cetuximab have entered phase III studies. The results of these trials, which will mature over the next few years, will help determine the optimal use of EGFR agents in head and neck cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalAnti-Cancer Drugs
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004


  • Cetuximab
  • Epidermal growth factor receptor
  • Erlotinib
  • Gefitinib
  • Head and neck cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


Dive into the research topics of 'Rationale and clinical validation of epidermal growth factor receptor as a target in the treatment of head and neck cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this