In clinical trials, FLT3 inhibitors are reported to kill circulating AML blasts, but the bone marrow is protected. We have previously reported that niche-like conditions (fibronectin and a cytokine cocktail) significantly reduced the in vitro toxicity of the FLT3 inhibitor AG1296 to AML cells. Moreover, the toxicity of AG1296 to the chemoresistant leukaemic CD34+CD38-CD123+ subset was completely abolished under niche-like conditions. The novel multi-kinase inhibitor TG02 has selectivity against cell cycle and transcriptional CDKs and JAK2 as well as FLT3. TG02 has efficacy in in vivo models and induces apoptosis in primary AML cells. We have now evaluated its in vitro toxicity under niche-like conditions in bulk AML cells and in the CD34+CD38-CD123+ subset.
In a cohort of six FLT3-ITD and five FLT3-wildtype samples, 100nM TG02 induced decreases of 30% in bulk cells and 32% in CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells, whereas AG1296 (5μM) induced a median 21% decrease in bulk cells under niche-like conditions but a 0% decrease in CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells. Lestaurtinib, sorafenib and sunitinib were used as comparators (all at 100 nM) and induced, respectively, 13%, 4% and 13% decrease in bulk cells and 10%, 0% and 8% decrease in CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells. FLT3 wildtype as well as ITD samples were targeted. In order to establish the molecular pathways involved in niche-mediated chemoresistance and its reversal, we treated primary AML samples with TG02 or AG1296 for 3 hours in the presence and absence of niche proteins; we measured activating phosphorylations of STAT3 (tyr705), STAT5 (tyr694), ERK1/2 (thr202/tyr404) and AKT(ser473). Basal levels of activating phosphorylations were generally higher in the bulk cells than the CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells, possibly reflecting the increased quiescence of the latter subset. STAT3, STAT5 and ERK1/2 phosphorylation were reduced by TG02 to a slightly greater degree than by AG1296 in bulk cells. However, in CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells this contrast was enhanced, such that AG1296 was ineffective, whereas TG02 was at least as effective as in bulk cells. Niche-like conditions induced an increase in phosphorylation of STAT5, but not of the other proteins tested. TG02 reduced this to basal levels in both bulk cells and CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells. AG1296 partially blocked niche-induced STAT5 phosphorylation in bulk cells, but not in CD34+CD38-CD123+ cells. It had no effect on ERK signalling. AKT phosphorylation was not informative.
In conclusion, TGO2 is more cytotoxic than comparatively selective FLT3 inhibitors towards CD34+CD38-CD123+ AML cells as well as bulk cells under niche conditions and the toxicity is associated with downregulation of STAT3, STAT5 and ERK activation.
Pallis:Tragara Pharmaceuticals: Research Funding. Burrows:Tragara Pharmaceuticals: Employment.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.