Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and VEGF receptor inhibitors in the treatment of renal cell carcinomas
One Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene is lost in most renal cell carcinomas while the nondeleted allele exhibits hypermethylation-induced inactivation or inactivating somatic mutations. As a result of these genetic modifications, there is an increased production of VEGF-A and pro-angiogenic growth factors in this disorder. The important role of angiogenesis in the pathogenesis of renal cell carcinomas and other tumors has focused the attention of investigators on the biology of VEGFs and VEGFR1–3 and to the development of inhibitors of the intricate and multifaceted angiogenic pathways. VEGFR1–3 contain an extracellular segment with seven immunoglobulin-like domains, a transmembrane segment, a juxtamembrane segment, a protein kinase domain with an insert of about 70 amino acid residues, and a C-terminal tail. VEGF-A stimulates the activation of preformed VEGFR2 dimers by the auto-phosphorylation of activation segment tyrosines followed by the phosphorylation of additional protein-tyrosines that recruit phosphotyrosine binding proteins thereby leading to signalling by the ERK1/2, AKT, Src, and p38 MAP kinase pathways. VEGFR1 modulates the activity of VEGFR2, which is the chief pathway in vasculogenesis and angiogenesis. VEGFR3 and its ligands (VEGF-C and VEGF-D) are involved primarily in lymphangiogenesis. Small molecule VEGFR1/2/3 inhibitors including axitinib, cabozantinib, lenvatinib, sorafenib, sunitinib, and pazopanib are approved by the FDA for the treatment of renal cell carcinomas. Most of these agents are type II inhibitors of VEGFR2 and inhibit the so-called DFG-Aspout inactive enzyme conformation. These drugs are steady-state competitive inhibitors with respect to ATP and like ATP they form hydrogen bonds with the hinge residues that connect the small and large protein kinase lobes. Bevacizumab, a monoclonal antibody that binds to VEGF-A, is also approved for the treatment of renal cell carcinomas. Resistance to these agents invariably occurs within one year of treatment and clinical studies are underway to determine the optimal sequence of treatment with these anti-angiogenic agents. The nivolumab immune checkpoint inhibitor is also approved for the second-line treatment of renal cell carcinomas. Owing to the resistance of renal cell carcinomas to cytotoxic drugs and radiation therapy, the development of these agents has greatly improved the therapeutic options in the treatment of these malignancies.