Therapy’s shadow: a short history of the study of resistance to cancer chemotherapy

Peter Keating, Alberto Cambrosio, Nicole Nelson, Andrei Mogoutov, Jean-Philippe Cointet: Therapy’s shadow: a short history of the study of resistance to cancer chemotherapy. In: Frontiers in pharmacology, vol. 4, pp. 58, 2013.


This article traces the history of research on resistance to drug therapy in oncology using scientometric techniques and qualitative analysis. Using co-citation analysis, we generate maps to visualize subdomains in resistance research in two time periods, 1975–1990 and 1995–2010. These maps reveal two historical trends in resistance research: first, a shift in focus from generic mechanisms of resistance to chemotherapy to a focus on resistance to targeted therapies and molecular mechanisms of oncogenesis; and second, a movement away from an almost exclusive reliance on animal and cell models and toward the generation of knowledge about resistance through clinical trial work. A close reading of highly cited articles within each subdomain cluster reveals specific points of transition from one regime to the other, in particular the failure of several promising theories of resistance to be translated into clinical insights and the emergence of interest in resistance to a new generation of targeted agents such as imatinib and trastuzumab. We argue that the study of resistance in the oncology field has thus become more integrated with research into cancer therapy – rather than constituting it as a separate domain of study, as it has done in the past, contemporary research treats resistance as the flip side to treatment, as therapy’s shadow.

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