Introduction: The transcriptional kinase CDK7 has been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple malignancies, including hematologic malignancies, and may play important roles in regulation of oncogenic transcriptional dependencies and in regulation of the mitochondrial apoptosis machinery in tumors. SY-1365, a selective inhibitor of CDK7, was developed to exploit tumor dependencies driven by CDK7 and is in clinical development in patients with advanced solid tumors. We have previously reported that SY-1365 selectively induces apoptosis in leukemic cells relative to non-malignant cells in vitro, and demonstrates anti-tumor activity in AML xenografts. Here we report that SY-1365 has potent inhibitory activity against a broad panel of hematologic malignancies in vitro and ex vivo, induces regressions in AML xenografts using a clinically relevant dosing regimen, and demonstrates synergy with the BCL2 inhibitor venetoclax in AML cells in vitro.

Methods: SY-1365 dose-response curves were measured using the ATP-lite assay in a panel of 85 leukemia and lymphoma cell lines in vitro, and in a panel of 226 patient-derived tumor samples from 5 leukemic indications cultured ex vivo. In vivo tumor inhibitory activity was evaluated using once weekly (QW) and twice weekly (BIW) dosing regimens in ML-2 and Kasumi-1 AML xenografts. Growth-rate (GR) adjusted dose response curves were used to classify cell lines into low and high sensitivity groups, and were evaluated relative to RNA expression data to identify markers predictive of sensitivity to SY-1365. Synergy between SY-1365 and venetoclax was evaluated in vitro using KG-1 AML cells.

Results: In 42 leukemia lines, SY-1365 had a median IC50 of 11nM (range 1-79nM), with 48% (20/42) demonstrating particularly low IC50s (<10nM). In 43 lymphoma lines, the median IC50 was 6nM (range 1-39nM), with 59% (27/46) demonstrating low IC50s (<10nM). Similarly, SY-1365 demonstrated potent inhibitory activity against patient-derived leukemia samples cultured ex vivo (median IC50 of 28nM), with 82% (185/226) of the samples showing IC50 below 100nM and 8% (19/226) under 10nM. Furthermore, analysis of growth rate (GR) in hematologic tumor cell lines showed that <10nM SY-1365 induced cytotoxicity (GR<0) in 19% (8/42) of leukemia and 21% (9/43) of lymphoma lines. To evaluate SY-1365 anti-tumor activity in vivo, 2 AML cell lines that demonstrate cytotoxic responses to SY-1365 in vitro (Kasumi-1 and ML-2) were grown as subcutaneous xenografts in mice. QW and BIW dosing of 40mg/kg SY-1365 induced tumor regressions in Kasumi-1 xenografts, and BIW dosing induced tumor stasis in ML-2 xenografts. Tumor growth inhibition was detected with a 20mg/kg BIW dosing regimen in both models. Comparison of SY-1365 sensitivity with RNA expression in hematologic tumor cell lines revealed that lower expression of BCL2L1, which encodes the mitochondrial apoptosis inhibitor BCL-XL, was highly predictive of sensitivity in leukemia cell lines (Accuracy=89%, FDR<0.05); no such relationship was observed in lymphoma lines. Considering the established role of BCL2 and the mitochondrial apoptosis pathway in leukemia, we reasoned that BCL-XL low-expressing leukemias, in addition to being sensitive to SY-1365, would also be reliant on BCL2 for survival. Indeed, in vitro combination studies demonstrated synergistic inhibitory activity of SY-1365 with the BCL2 inhibitor venetoclax in KG-1 AML cells. A potential synergistic interaction with SY-1365 and venetoclax is currently being explored in vivo with AML xenografts.

Conclusions: SY-1365 shows potent in vitro inhibitory activity in multiple hematological indications and can induce AML xenograft tumor regression in mice. In vitro exploratory biomarker and tumor cell inhibitory combination studies in AML suggest a role for mitochondrial apoptosis signaling in mediating sensitivity to SY-1365 and support the evaluation of a combination with venetoclax. SY-1365 is currently being assessed in a phase 1 trial in adult patients with advanced solid tumors (NCT03134638). The results described here support the potential for additional exploration in patients with hematological malignancies.


Hodgson: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Johannessen: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Rajagopal: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Hu: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Orlando: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Eaton: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. McKeown: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Tyner: Takeda Pharmaceutical Company: Research Funding; Agios Pharmaceuticals: Research Funding; Incyte Corporation: Research Funding; Gilead: Research Funding; Janssen Pharmaceutica: Research Funding; Syros: Research Funding; Aptose Biosciences: Research Funding; Seattle Genetics: Research Funding; Constellation Pharmaceuticals: Research Funding; Genentech: Research Funding; Array Biopharma: Research Funding; AstraZeneca: Research Funding; Leap Oncology: Consultancy. Sprott: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Fritz: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership. Di Tomaso: Syros Pharmaceuticals: Employment.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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