All authors are employees of AbbVie and participated in the design, conduct, and interpretation of these studies. AbbVie and Genentech provided financial support for these studies and participated in the review and approval of this publication.

The BCL-2-selective inhibitor ABT-199 has demonstrated efficacy in numerous preclinical models of hematologic malignancies without causing thrombocytopenia, a dose-limiting toxicity associated with the BCL-2/BCL-XL inhibitor navitoclax (Souers et al. 2013. Nat. Med. 19, 202-208). ABT-199 has also demonstrated clinical activity in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) (Seymour et al. 2014. J. Clin. Oncol. 32, 448s; Davids et al. 2014. J. Clin. Oncol. 32, 544s). Despite these encouraging early clinical data, some subjects do not respond to ABT-199 or progress while on treatment. Pre-clinical models indicate that both intrinsic and acquired resistance may be a consequence of MCL-1 expression. Consequently, we have explored potent and selective small molecule inhibitors of CDK9, a kinase known to maintain the expression of MCL-1 through its role in p-TEFb-mediated transcription. Inhibition of CDK9 resulted in the rapid loss in RNA polymerase II phosphorylation (Serine 5) and MCL-1 expression that was closely followed by the induction of apoptosis in MCL-1-dependent cell lines, a cellular response that could be rescued by overexpression of BCL-2. Substantial synergy was observed between CDK9 inhibitors and ABT-199 in a number of hematologic cell lines with intrinsic or acquired resistance to ABT-199. Direct inhibition of MCL-1 with the small molecule BH3 mimetic A-1210477 was also highly synergistic with ABT-199, further validating the utility of co-inhibiting MCL-1 and BCL-2 function simultaneously in ABT-199 resistant tumors. Importantly, the CDK9 inhibitor-ABT-199 combination was well tolerated in vivo and demonstrated efficacy superior to either agent alone in xenograft models of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). These data indicate that CDK9 inhibitors may be highly efficacious when used in combination with ABT-199 for the treatment of hematologic malignancies.


Chen:Abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Jin:Abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Tapang:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Tahir:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Smith:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Xue:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Zhang:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Gao:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Tong:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Clark:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Ricker:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Penning:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Albert:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Phillips:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Souers:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership. Leverson:abbvie: Employment, Equity Ownership.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.