Data from many preclinical studies, including those using cellular models of colorectal, gastric, gastro-oesophageal and gastro-oesophageal junction cancers, indicate that the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF)-hepatocyte growth factor receptor (c-MET) pathway is vital for the growth, survival and invasive potential of gastrointestinal cancers. Following the availability of data from these various studies, and data on c-MET expression as a biomarker that indicates a poor prognosis in patients with gastrointestinal cancer and increased c-MET expression, inhibitors targeting this pathway have entered the clinic in the past decade. However, the design of clinical trials that incorporate the use of HGF/c-MET inhibitors in their most appropriate genetic and molecular context remains crucial. Recognizing and responding to this challenge, the European Commission funded Framework 7 MErCuRIC programme is running a biomarker-enriched clinical trial investigating the efficacy of combined c-MET/MEK inhibition in patients with RAS-mutant or RAS-wild-type metastatic colorectal cancer with aberrant c-MET expression. The design of this trial enables the continued refinement of the predictive biomarker and co-development of companion diagnostics. In this Review, we focus on advances in our understanding of inhibition of the HGF/c-MET pathway in patients with gastro-intestinal cancers, the prominent challenges facing the clinical translation and implementation of agents targeting HGF/c-MET, and discuss the various efforts, and associated obstacles to the discovery and validation of biomarkers that will enable patient stratification in this context.
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