Genome-wide analysis of therapeutic response uncovers molecular pathways governing tamoxifen resistance in ER+ breast cancer

Background: Prioritization of breast cancer patients based on the risk of resistance to tamoxifen plays a significant role in personalized therapeutic planning and improving disease course and outcomes.

Methods: In this work, we demonstrate that a genome-wide pathway-centric computational framework elucidates molecular pathways as markers of tamoxifen resistance in ER+ breast cancer patients. In particular, we associated activity levels of molecular pathways with a wide spectrum of response to tamoxifen, which defined markers of tamoxifen resistance in patients with ER+ breast cancer.

Findings: We identified five biological pathways as markers of tamoxifen failure and demonstrated their ability to predict the risk of tamoxifen resistance in two independent patient cohorts (Test cohort1: log-rank p-value = 0.02, adjusted HR = 3.11; Test cohort2: log-rank p-value = 0.01, adjusted HR = 4.24). We have shown that these pathways are not markers of aggressiveness and outperform known markers of tamoxifen response. Furthermore, for adoption into clinic, we derived a list of pathway read-out genes and their associated scoring system, which assigns a risk of tamoxifen resistance for new incoming patients.

Interpretation: We propose that the identified pathways and their read-out genes can be utilized to prioritize patients who would benefit from tamoxifen treatment and patients at risk of tamoxifen resistance that should be offered alternative regimens.

Funding: This work was supported by the Rutgers SHP Dean’s research grant, Rutgers start-up funds, Libyan Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Katrina Kehlet Graduate Award from The NJ Chapter of the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Pathway markers; Tamoxifen; Therapeutic resistance.