Despite the impressive success of imatinib in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), resistance to therapy remains an issue for approximately 15-20% of newly diagnosed chronic phase patients by 5 years and transient responses are the rule for patients with blast crisis CML or Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL). The most frequent and well-characterized mechanism of resistance to imatinib is acquisition of point mutations in the BCR-ABL1 kinase domain which compromise drug binding. This form of resistance is largely well-handled by the newer, more potent ABL1 inhibitors nilotinib, dasatinib, and ponatinib. However, in the remainder of patients with resistance sustained inhibition of BCR-ABL1 kinase activity is necessary but no longer sufficient to inhibit cell growth, implicating activation of additional, thus far, poorly understood BCR-ABL1-independent mechanisms of growth and survival. In an effort to identify and validate novel pathways important in BCR-ABL-independent resistance to ABL1 kinase inhibitors, we screened a cohort of 30 patients with CML or Ph+ ALL exhibiting clinical resistance to at least one ABL1 kinase inhibitor without evidence of a drug-resistant BCR-ABL1 kinase domain mutation. Following informed consent, fresh primary mononuclear cells were isolated from each sample by Ficoll gradient centrifugation, plated ex vivo in the presence of a panel of clinical and pre-clinical small-molecule kinase inhibitors, and assessed for effects on viability after 3 days. Ex vivo resistance to ABL1 kinase inhibitors largely tracked with clinical resistance profiles, and considerable variation in sensitivity profiles for other inhibitors was observed. Among these data, we found a particularly interesting subset of patients whose cells demonstrated ex vivo sensitivity to one or more PI3-K/AKT inhibitors (n=6/30; 20%) including PI-103, BEZ235, CAL-101, and MK-2206. These findings are consistent with previous studies demonstrating PI3-K activation in select ABL1 kinase inhibitor-resistant CML cell lines (Quentmeier et al., J Hem Onc 2011) and in response to imatinib in pre-overt resistance (Burchert et al., Leukemia 2005). Among the effective PI3-K/AKT inhibitors, the most prominent were the dual class IA PI3-K/mTOR inhibitor PI-103 (IC50 range:38-110 nM) and BEZ235 (IC50 range: 20-210 nM). To further interrogate the mechanism(s) behind dependence on this pathway, samples of interest were analyzed by deep sequencing using a custom capture library encompassing ∼2000 kinases, phosphatases, and adaptor proteins. However, in contrast to previous reports of activating PIK3CA mutations in imatinib-resistant KCL-22 cells, we found PIK3CA to be wild-type in all samples. Despite a common sensitivity to PI3-K/AKT pathway inhibition, we found sequence variants were somewhat heterogeneous and direct kinase targets in this pathway were wild-type, suggesting other causative lesions which activate this pathway. Variants were prioritized based on known associations to this pathway, generated and evaluated in vitro for Ba/F3 cell transformation capacity, and validated for pathway activation and kinase inhibitor sensitivity. These results will be presented. Taken together, our findings suggest that a subset of patients with Ph+ leukemia who become refractory to ABL1 kinase inhibitors without a BCR-ABL1 kinase domain mutation demonstrate acquired dependence on the PI3-K/AKT axis, warranting further investigation of inhibitors of this pathway alone and in combination with ABL1 inhibitors as a molecularly targeted therapeutic strategy in patients.


Off Label Use: Ruxolitinib - a JAK1/2 inhibitor that we propose can be used off-label for disease management of CSF3R-mutant neutrophilic leukemia. Deininger:BMS: Consultancy, Research Funding; ARIAD: advisory board, advisory board Other, Consultancy; Novartis: advisory board, advisory board Other, Consultancy, Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Gilead: Research Funding. Tyner:Incyte Corporation: Research Funding. Druker:Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, ARIAD & Incyte: Clin trial funding. OHSU holds contracts; Druker receives no salary/lab research funds. OHSU & Druker have financial interest in MolecularMD; technology used in some studies licensed to MolecularMD. This conflict has been reviewed and managed by OHSU. Other.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.