Only a minority of myeloma cell lines are killed when the prosurvival BCL2 or BCLXL are selectively inhibited with BH3 mimetic compounds.
In contrast, targeting MCL1 readily killed ∼70% of the myeloma cell lines tested, including both low-passage and well-established ones.
New therapeutic targets are needed to address the poor prognosis of patients with high-risk multiple myeloma. Myeloma cells usually express a range of the prosurvival BCL2 proteins. To define the hierarchy of their relative importance for maintaining the survival of myeloma cells, we targeted each of them in a large panel of cell lines, using pharmacological inhibitors or gene editing or by peptide-based approaches, alone or in combination. The majority of well-established immortalized cell lines (17/25) or low-passage myeloma cell lines (5/7) are readily killed when MCL1 is targeted, even including those cell lines sensitive to BCL2 inhibition. Targeting MCL1 also constrained the growth of myeloma in vivo. We also identified a previously unrecognized subset of myeloma that is highly BCLXL-dependent, and has the potential for cotargeting MCL1 and BCLXL. As MCL1 is pivotal for maintaining survival of most myelomas, it should be prioritized for targeting in the clinic once high-quality, validated inhibitors become available.