Introduction: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most prevalent form of cancer affecting children with 2,500-3,500 new cases per year. More effective targeted therapies have yielded a current five-year survival rate of at least 85% for children; however relapsed disease, as well as harsh side effects of treatment, remain prevalent hurdles for many patients. Cells harbored by the bone marrow comprise minimal residual disease that may contribute to later re-expansion of the tumor population following treatment, also known as cell adhesion mediated drug resistance (CAM-DR).

Bone marrow stromal cell contact has been shown to upregulate phosphorylated AKT, promoting survival of ALL cells. We investigate a new dual targeted therapy, Morpholinothienopyrane (SF2535), which inhibits both PI3Kdelta and BRD4, each key molecules in signal transduction pathways between microenvironment and leukemia cells. PI3Kdelta is a central nodal molecule in outside-in pathways including cell-cell interactions mediated by integrins. BRD4, a member of the bromodomain and extraterminal domain (BET) family of proteins which bind acetylated lysines at promoter and enhancer regions, is another key player involved in regulation of transcription of myc family transcription factors. In addition to transcriptional regulation by BRD4, myc is also regulated by PI3kdelta which inhibits GSK3beta-mediated degradation of myc. We hypothesize that this dual inhibitor, SF2535, will disrupt signaling between leukemia cells and the bone marrow microenvironment, thus addressing CAM-DR.

Methods/Results:In vitro and in vivo BRD4 and PI3Kdelta target downregulation was measured by western blot including assessment of myc, AKT, and phosphorylated AKT. Cells were starved in vitro in serum-free conditions for 18 hours followed by treatment with SF2535 and stimulation with serum. Levels of phosphorylated AKT were noticeably decreased in SF2535 treated cells compared with DMSO control or JQ1 (BET inhibitor) treatment alone.

Truncation of microenvironmental outside-in signaling via inhibition of PI3Kdelta and BRD4 was measured via transwell migration assay. Primary ALL cells were cultured on top of a porous membrane with SDF-1alpha in the chamber below. Significantly less primary ALL cells migrated toward SDF-1alpha when treated with SF2535 compared to DMSO, CAL101 (PI3Kdelta inhibitor), or JQ1 (BET inhibitor).

The combination of SF2535 with vincristine, dexamethasone, and L-asparaginase (VDL), the backbone of induction therapy for many ALL patients, was evaluated in vitro. Primary tumor cells were co-cultured on irradiated OP-9 murine stromal cells and treated with SF2535, VDL, or SF2535 and VDL combined. Apoptosis in response to treatment was measured via AnnexinV and 7-AAD flow cytometry. The combination of SF2535 and VDL showed significantly more cell death compared to either SF2535 or VDL alone at three concentrations of each treatment. Additionally, CalcuSyn software was used to assess putative additive versus synergistic effects of this combination. CalcuSyn analysis of VDL and SF2535 combination compared to either SF2535 or VDL treatment alone shows synergy (defined as a combination index of 0.3-0.7) between these two therapies used on sample LAX7R after 1 day of treatment.

Discussion: Thus far we have shown that this novel inhibitor decreases expression of downstream targets of PI3Kdelta (phosphorylated AKT) and BRD4 (C-myc), inhibits migration of ALL toward bone marrow stromal factors, and increases apoptosis of primary patient samples when combined with VDL compared to VDL alone. Most notably, we have determined a synergistic relationship between SF2535 and VDL in vitro, suggesting a role for this novel therapy in sensitizing cells to chemotherapy. The use of a single agent against both PI3Kdelta and BRD4 ultimately aimed at downregulation of myc levels provides the possibility of more effective, less toxic therapeutic option that addresses CAM-DR faced by many patients. While ongoing experiments in vitro and in vivo will provide a more robust picture of the efficacy of this drug, our preliminary data suggest promise for this novel application of BRD4 and PI3Kdelta inhibition in the context of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.


Durden:SignalRx Pharmaceuticals, Inc.: Consultancy, Equity Ownership, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.