Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is an aggressive B-cell lymphoma that accounts for 5-8% of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Despite the Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor ibrutinib and the BH3 mimetic BCL2 inhibitor venetoclax (ABT-199) have proven to be effective therapeutic strategies for MCL, most patients often experience disease progression after treatment. Thus, developing a novel drug to overcome this aggressive relapsed/refractory malignancy is an urgent need. Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) is a serine/threonine kinase belonging to the CDK family which regulates multiple cellular processes, particularly in driving and maintaining cancer cell growth. Unlike classical CDKs, CDK9 is a critical component of the positive transcription elongation factor b (P-TEFb) complex that mediates transcription elongation and mRNA maturation via phosphorylating RNA polymerase II (RNAP2). Previous studies demonstrated that CDK9 inhibition downregulates transcription levels of MCL-1 and MYC, which are crucial in both survival and proliferation of acute myeloid leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. We and others found that the MYC signaling pathway was enhanced in MCL, especially in ibrutinib-resistant MCL patients. MYC is a core transcription factor driving lymphomagenesis. It does not possess enzymatic activity and has long been considered to be undruggable. MCL-1 is a key anti-apoptotic protein and is overexpressed in several hematologic malignancies. It was also found to be overexpressed in ibrutinib or venetoclax-resistant MCL cells. Thus, CDK9 is considered as a potential target that may inhibit MYC and MCL-1 pathways. Although recently it was shown that MC180295, a novel selective inhibitor of CDK9, has nanomolar levels anti-cancer potency, whether its beneficial effects extend to relapsed/refractory MCL has not yet been assessed.
We use three paired MCL cells sensitive/resistant to ibrutinib or venetoclax to test the efficacy of CDK9 inhibitor MC180295. Cell viability was measured by using Cell Titer Glo (Promega). Cell apoptosis assay and western blot analyses were used to identify affected pathways after MC180295 treatment. Finally, we used patient-derived xenograft (PDX) mouse models to test the therapeutic potential of MC180295 in MCL.
First, we examined the potential efficacy of a CDK9 inhibitor MC180295 in MCL cells. MC180295 treatment results in growth inhibition of ibrutinib-resistant or venetoclax-resistant MCL cells. By assessing the caspase 3 and PARP activity, we found that MC180295 treatment induces cell death via cell apoptosis in MCL cell lines. Meanwhile, we found that RNAP2 phosphorylation at Ser2, the active form of RNAP2, is downregulated in MC180295 treated MCL cell lines. Consistent to previous studies, MC180295 treatment significantly reduces the protein level of MYC and MCL-1. In addition, we identified several other important proteins, such as cyclin D1 and BCL-XL, were also downregulated upon MCL180295 treatment. MC180295 was able to overcome ibrutinib-venetoclax dual resistance in PDX mouse models without severe side effects. To improve the efficacy of MC180295 as a single agent, we performed in vitro combinational drug screen with a number of FDA-approved or investigational clinical agents and found that MC180295 had a synergistic effect with venetoclax. We are currently investigating the underlying mechanism of action.
Taken together, our findings showed that targeting CDK9 by its specific inhibitor MC180295 is effective in targeting MCL cells, especially those with ibrutinib or venetoclax resistance and therefore supports the concept that CDK9 is a new target to overcome ibrutinib/venetoclax resistance in MCL.
Wang:MoreHealth: Consultancy; Dava Oncology: Honoraria; Beijing Medical Award Foundation: Honoraria; OncLive: Honoraria; Molecular Templates: Research Funding; Verastem: Research Funding; Guidepoint Global: Consultancy; Nobel Insights: Consultancy; Oncternal: Consultancy, Research Funding; InnoCare: Consultancy; Loxo Oncology: Consultancy, Research Funding; Targeted Oncology: Honoraria; OMI: Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses; Celgene: Consultancy, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses, Research Funding; AstraZeneca: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses, Research Funding; Pharmacyclics: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses, Research Funding; Janssen: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses, Research Funding; Lu Daopei Medical Group: Honoraria; Pulse Biosciences: Consultancy; Kite Pharma: Consultancy, Other: Travel, accommodation, expenses, Research Funding; Juno: Consultancy, Research Funding; BioInvent: Research Funding; VelosBio: Research Funding; Acerta Pharma: Research Funding.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.