A novel CDK9 inhibitor increases the efficacy of venetoclax (ABT-199) in multiple models of hematologic malignancies

Darren C. Phillips, Sha Jin, Gareth P. Gregory, Qi Zhang, John Xue, Xiaoxian Zhao, Jun Chen, Yunsong Tong, Haichao Zhang, Morey Smith, Stephen K. Tahir, Rick F. Clark, Thomas D. Penning, Jennifer R. Devlin, Jake Shortt, Eric D. Hsi, Daniel H. Albert, Marina Konopleva, Ricky W. Johnstone, Joel D. LeversonAndrew J. Souers

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53 Citations (Scopus)


MCL-1 is one of the most frequently amplified genes in cancer, facilitating tumor initiation and maintenance and enabling resistance to anti-tumorigenic agents including the BCL-2 selective inhibitor venetoclax. The expression of MCL-1 is maintained via P-TEFb-mediated transcription, where the kinase CDK9 is a critical component. Consequently, we developed a series of potent small-molecule inhibitors of CDK9, exemplified by the orally active A-1592668, with CDK selectivity profiles that are distinct from related molecules that have been extensively studied clinically. Short-term treatment with A-1592668 rapidly downregulates RNA pol-II (Ser 2) phosphorylation resulting in the loss of MCL-1 protein and apoptosis in MCL-1-dependent hematologic tumor cell lines. This cell death could be attenuated by either inhibiting caspases or overexpressing BCL-2 protein. Synergistic cell killing was also observed between A-1592668 or the related analog A-1467729, and venetoclax in a number of hematologic cell lines and primary NHL patient samples. Importantly, the CDK9 inhibitor plus venetoclax combination was well tolerated in vivo and demonstrated efficacy superior to either agent alone in mouse models of lymphoma and AML. These data indicate that CDK9 inhibitors could be highly efficacious in tumors that depend on MCL-1 for survival or when used in combination with venetoclax in malignancies dependent on MCL-1 and BCL-2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1646-1657
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

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