Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) is the most common hematological malignancy, with B-cell lymphoma (NHL-B) accounting for 85% of all lymphomas. In the United States, there are ~500,000 lymphoma patients currently living with this disease and ~20,000 lymphoma-related deaths occur annually. The current overall cure rate for B-cell lymphoma is estimated at ~30%, indicating that new innovative therapeutic approaches are needed to significantly reduce the high mortality rate, particularly of relapsed/refractory (r/r) NHL-B.

The poor quality of life in patients suffering from chronic diseases like cancer has forced many patients to pursue alternative treatment options, including medicinal cannabinoids (CB), in order to improve their clinical prospect/outcomes. Medicinal cannabinoids have been legalized in 23 states and DC for several medical conditions such as cachexia, chronic pain, epilepsy and other similar disorders characterized by seizures, glaucoma, HIV- AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, muscle spasticity and GI enteritis. Lately however, cannabis has been shown to have a broader biologic activity spectrum with various cannabis compounds functioning as ligands binding the two principle cannabinoid-specific G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) CB1 (in neural cells), and CB2, in immune lymphoid, particularly B cells, but have also been identified, showing aberrant expression in a wide variety of important human cancers. This suggests not only a wider spectrum of cellular usage of cannabinoids and their cognate receptors, but also their potential utility as novel therapeutic targets. Gene expression profiling data has demonstrated, however, that B-cell lymphoma is one of the top three cancers (glioma and gastric are the other two) showing high expression of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Our studies showed that CB1 receptor is highly expressed in aggressive NHL-B, including mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) cells in comparison to normal unstimulated (G0) B cells, and that targeting CB1 using an siRNA approach leads to cell growth inhibition. Furthermore, pharmacological approaches targeting CB1 with small molecule antagonists (Rimonabant and Otenabant) inhibited lymphoma cell viability, leading to the induction of apoptosis and G2M cell cycle arrest. Using proteomic approach via reverse-phase protein array (RPPA), we have demonstrated that lymphoma cells treated with the CB1 antagonist Rimonabant showed a robust effect on apoptosis (increases in caspase 3 and 7, Bad, and bak), cell cycle (increases in p27 and cyclin D1), DNA damage (increases in gH2AX), and autophagy (increases in LC3A) associated proteins. In addition, Rimonabant treatment also inhibited several growth and survival pathways, including STAT3, SRC, and b-catenin, while enhancing the PI3K/ATK pathway. Of note, Rimonabant treatment also activated the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway through stimulating two checkpoint kinases (Chk1 and Chk2). Blocking Rimonabant-induced Chk1 and Chk2 with a selective ATP-competitive inhibitor of Chk1 and Chk2 leads to a robust synergistic effect on cell growth inhibition and apoptotic induction, suggesting that blocking the DDR pathway with Chk kinase inhibitors prevents cells recovering from rimonabant-induced DNA damage. These findings suggest that targeting the cannabinoid receptors and the DDR pathway represents a new therapeutic strategy against resistant r/r NHL-B cells.


Pham:Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals: Research Funding. Bryant:Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals: Equity Ownership. Yang:Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals: Employment.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.