Mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase 2 (IDH2) promote AML pathogenesis through production of 2-hydroxyglutarate (2-HG). Enasidenib is an inhibitor of mutant IDH2 activity and induces the differentiation of IDH2-mutated leukemic blasts. In a phase I/II clinical trial, enasidenib monotherapy resulted in an overall response rate of 40% and median duration of response of 6 months in relapsed/refractory AML (Stein et. al. Blood 2017).

We previously discovered that mutant IDH activity sensitizes AML cells to BCL-2 inhibition through accumulation of 2-HG (Chan et. al. Nature Medicine 2015). Pharmacologic inhibition of BCL-2 activity with venetoclax, a highly specific BH3 mimetic, preferentially targets IDH-mutated human AML cells. In a phase II clinical trial of venetoclax monotherapy, IDH-mutated relapsed/refractory AML patients had a response rate of 33% compared to 10% in IDH-wildtype patients (Konopleva et. al. Cancer Discovery 2016).

Based on the above findings, we hypothesized that combination therapy with enasidenib and venetoclax may demonstrate superior anti-leukemic activity in comparison to single agents in the treatment of IDH2-mutant AML. However, given that the mechanism by which IDH mutations increase BCL-2 dependence is via 2-HG, reduction of 2-HG with enasidenib may antagonize venetoclax activity. As such, we further hypothesized that a sequential dosing schedule may be superior to concurrent dosing.

To test our hypotheses, we conducted a preclinical study to evaluate the efficacy of monotherapy versus combination therapy in reducing the leukemic burden in three patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models of human IDH2-mutant AML. All three PDX models were derived from samples with co-occurring IDH2R140Q and NPM1c mutations. Engrafted animals were randomly assigned to one of six treatment arms (N=5 per arm): vehicle (arm 1), enasidenib alone (arm 2), venetoclax alone (arm 3), concurrent combination (arm 4), and sequential combinations (arms 5 and 6; see Figure 1 for details). Enasidenib and venetoclax were administered by oral gavage at a dose of 40 mg/kg twice a day and 100 mg/kg daily, respectively. Tumor burden was measured in bone marrow samples collected immediately prior to treatment and every 2 weeks during the 12-week treatment period.

Concurrent combination treatment (arm 4) resulted in the greatest reduction in leukemia engraftment compared to all other treatment arms, including the sequential dosing arms, in two of the three models (#1 and #2, henceforth termed "responders"; Figure 2A). Although venetoclax monotherapy reduced engraftment in all three models, persistent disease above a threshold of 0.1% was detectable in 12 of 13 animals by flow cytometry (9 of 13 by ddPCR) after 12 weeks of treatment (Figure 2B). In contrast, disease was detectable in only 2 of 9 animals (0 of 9 by ddPCR) treated with concurrent therapy in responders. In the remaining model (#3, henceforth termed "non-responder"), combination therapy was not superior to venetoclax monotherapy but importantly, co-treatment with enasidenib did not antagonize venetoclax activity. Interestingly, enasidenib monotherapy increased expression of myeloid differentiation markers, CD15 and CD11b, only in responders, indicating that differentiation might be a precondition for responsiveness to concurrent therapy. We confirmed that the lack of response in non-responders was not due to selection of an IDH2 wildtype clone or failure to block 2-HG production by enasidenib.

To gain insights into the mechanism by which enasidenib might enhance venetoclax sensitivity, we performed quantitative intracellular flow cytometry staining for the anti-apoptotic proteins BCL-2, BCL-xL and MCL-1 in leukemic cells collected after 12 weeks of treatment. Enasidenib monotherapy resulted in a significant decrease in BCL-2 expression in responders. The reduction in anti-apoptotic protein expression could potentiate mitochondrial priming and sensitization to venetoclax.

In summary, our findings demonstrate that concurrent combination therapy with enasidenib and venetoclax is a promising therapeutic approach for IDH2-mutated AML. Responsiveness to combination therapy is associated with enasidenib-induced differentiation and reduction in anti-apoptotic protein expression. Our findings support ongoing and future clinical investigations in combination therapies with mutant IDH and BCL-2 inhibitors.


Cojocari:AbbVie Inc: Employment. Phillips:AbbVie Inc: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties. Leverson:AbbVie Inc: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties. MacBeth:Celgene Corporation: Employment, Equity Ownership. Nicolay:Agios: Employment. Narayanaswamy:Agios: Employment. Ronseaux:Agios: Employment. Liu:Agios: Employment, Equity Ownership. Chan:AbbVie: Research Funding; Genentech: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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