EGFR inhibition and radiotherapy are potent inducers of DNA damage. Checkpoint kinases 1 and 2 (Chk1/2) are critical regulators of the DNA damage response, controlling cell cycle checkpoints which may permit recovery from therapy-associated genomic stress. We hypothesized that Chk1/2 inhibition (CHKi) with prexasertib may enhance cytotoxicity from EGFR inhibition plus radiotherapy in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). In this study, we found that the addition of CHKi to the EGFR inhibitor cetuximab with and without radiotherapy significantly decreased cell proliferation and survival fraction in HPV positive and HPV negative HNSCC cell lines. Reduced proliferation was accompanied by decreased checkpoint activation, induced S-phase accumulation, persistent DNA damage, and increased caspase cleavage and apoptosis. Importantly, a significant tumor growth delay was observed in vivo in both HPV-positive and HPV-negative cell line xenografts receiving triple combination therapy with CHKi, cetuximab, and radiotherapy without a concomitant increase in toxicity as assessed by mouse body weight. Taken together, the combination of CHKi with cetuximab plus irradiation displayed significant antitumor effects to HNSCCs both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting this combination therapy may increase clinical benefit. A clinical trial to test this treatment for patients with head and neck cancer is currently ongoing (NCT02555644).
- Received June 1, 2016.
- Revision received January 9, 2017.
- Accepted January 10, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.