Cyclin Dependent Kinases (CDKs) play a central role in the eukaryotic cell cycle. The activation of these kinases is modulated by the expression and binding of their regulatory cyclin partners. Their key role in cell cycle progression, coupled to evidence that pathways leading to their activation are deregulated in a number of human cancers makes them attractive therapeutic targets. More recently the role of CDKs 7, 8 and 9 in the regulation of transcription has been explored. CDK9 has been shown to play a role in the regulation of transcription via phosphorylation of RNA polymerase II. The outcome of transcriptional inhibition via CDK9 exhibits significant variation between cell lines. Many leukemic cell lines, which are dependent upon the expression of short half-life transcripts such as Mcl-1 for survival, undergo apoptosis following transcriptional inhibition and the cell cycle effects of such inhibitors are masked. AT7519 is a potent inhibitor of cyclin dependent kinases 1, 2 and 9 and is currently in early phase clinical development. These studies profile the mechanism of action of AT7519 in leukemia cell lines (HL60 and MOLT-4). AT7519 causes rapid induction of apoptosis (within 6 hours of initial exposure) in the absence of cell cycle arrest. This induction of apoptosis occurs in parallel with a reduction in the levels of anti-apoptotic proteins such as Mcl-1. In HL60 xenograft models anti-tumour efficacy is observed following 2 cycles of daily dosing of 15 or 10mg/kg for 5 days followed by 2 days off treatment. We observe a 50% cure rate (4/8 mice) at the 15mg/kg dose and a 30% cure rate at the 10mg/kg dose level 40 days following dosing. Pharmacodynamic biomarker studies demonstrate that a greater extent and duration of Mcl-1 knockdown and apoptosis induction are associated with efficacious doses. B-Cell lymphoproliferative disorders, including CLL, rely on the expression of transcripts with a short half-life such as Mcl-1, Bcl-2 and XIAP for survival. In vitro studies have demonstrated that compounds with transcriptional inhibitory effects are effective pro-apoptotic agents in models of this disease. Therefore, we also characterised the transcriptional effects of AT7519 on CLL cells isolated from patients. AT7519 was shown to induce apoptosis (by MTS, morphology and PARP cleavage) in these samples at concentrations of 100–300nM. These effects were correlated with the cytogenetic background of individual patients and the data supports further clinical investigation of AT7519 in B-Cell lymphoproliferative disorders where survival proteins play a pivotal role.

Author notes

Disclosure:Consultancy: D Mahedevan - Unpaid consultant to Astex Therapeutics. Research Funding: D Mahadevan - Research Grant from Astex Therapeutics.