Our understanding of the process of tumor angiogenesis has changed significantly since the late 1970s, when vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) was first identified as vascular permeability factor and later found to be the major mediator of physiologic and pathologic angiogenesis. Since then, several additional VEGF-related ligands, VEGF receptors (VEGFRs), and complementary/alternative pathways that regulate tumor angiogenesis have been identified. Over the last decade, several antiangiogenic agents have been developed with the aim to inhibit new blood vessel growth, and we have learned that VEGF inhibition does far more than simply block new blood vessel growth. Clinical studies have demonstrated an improvement of progression-free and overall survivals with anti-VEGF therapy (with or without chemotherapy) in patients with advanced-stage malignancies. Unfortunately, even when anti-VEGF therapy is effective, the benefit of therapy is short-lived, with the development of tumor growth. We now recognize the presence of numerous complementary and redundant pathways that regulate tumor vasculature. For example, VEGF/VEGFR and angiopoietin/Tie-2 axes are two redundant, complementary components regulating tumor angiogenesis and vascular maintenance. The current clinical challenge is to identify: (1) factors that predict efficacy, and (2) markers of tumor response to anti-VEGF therapy, which can be achieved only by developing a thorough understanding of the biology of the VEGF system and the role of complementary pathways that may mediate resistance to anti-VEGF therapy.
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