Therapies that target specific tumor drivers or immune checkpoints are increasingly explored for esophageal cancer patients. This review addresses developments in therapies with targeted anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) agents and immune checkpoint inhibitors in patients with stage IV esophageal cancer. First-line palliative treatment with the anti-HER2 agent trastuzumab in combination with chemotherapy has been approved for use in patients with HER2 positive gastro-esophageal adenocarcinoma. Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy plus perioperative trastuzumab however has not demonstrated a survival benefit in advanced esophageal cancer patients eligible for surgery. Potentially better responses are expected with dual agent anti-HER2 therapy instead of monotherapy. In the metastatic setting, the antibody–drug conjugate trastuzumab deruxtecan is effective after progression on trastuzumab. Nivolumab and pembrolizumab, antibodies blocking the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor on T cells, have recently gained approval for clinical use in esophageal cancer patients for specific indications. Synergistic effects might be achieved with combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors that target PD-1 on T cells or PD ligand 1 (PD-L1) on tumor cells and anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) receptor on T cells. Multiple clinical trials investigating combinations of targeted and immunotherapies, with or without (neo)adjuvant chemo(radio)therapy, for curative and palliative treatment, are underway, and are expected to deliver a long-awaited improvement in the prognosis of esophageal cancer patients.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Bas Wijnhoven and Bianca Mostert have received research funding from BMS. Bianca Mostert has received research funding from Sanofi and Pfizer, and has served as consultant for Lilly and Servier. The other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest relevant to the content of the article.
© 2022, The Author(s).