Open Access Research article

Treatment with a combination of the ErbB (HER) family blocker afatinib and the IGF-IR inhibitor, NVP-AEW541 induces synergistic growth inhibition of human pancreatic cancer cells

Nikolaos Ioannou1, Alan M Seddon1, Angus Dalgleish2, David Mackintosh1 and Helmout Modjtahedi1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, Kingston University London, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT1 2EE, UK

2 Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, St George’s University of London, London, UK

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-41

Published: 31 January 2013



Aberrant expression and activation of the IGF-IR have been reported in a variety of human cancers and have been associated with resistance to HER targeted therapy. In this study, we investigated the effect of simultaneous targeting of IGF-IR and HER (erbB) family, with NVP-AEW541 and afatinib, on proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells.


The sensitivity of a panel of human pancreatic cancer cell lines to treatment with NVP-AEW541 used alone or in combination with afatinib, anti-EGFR antibody ICR62, and cytotoxic agents was determined using the Sulforhodamine B colorimetric assay. Growth factor receptor expression, cell-cycle distribution and cell signalling were determined using flow cytometry and western blot analysis.


All pancreatic cancer cell lines were found to be IGF-IR positive and NVP-AEW541 treatment inhibited the growth of the pancreatic cancer cell lines with IC50 values ranging from 342 nM (FA6) to 2.73 μM (PT45). Interestingly, of the various combinations examined, treatment with a combination of NVP-AEW541 and afatinib was superior in inducing synergistic growth inhibition of the majority of pancreatic cancer cells.


Our results indicate that co-targeting of the erbB (HER) family and IGF-IR, with a combination of afatinib and NVP-AEW541, is superior to treatment with a single agent and encourages further investigation in vivo on their therapeutic potential in IGF-IR and HER positive pancreatic cancers.

EGFR; IGF-IR; Afatinib; NVP-AEW541; Pancreatic cancer