14 July 2020

Pan-RAF inhibition induces apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia cells and synergizes with BCL2 inhibition.

Tambe, M., Karjalainen, E., Vähä-Koskela, M., Bulanova, D., Gjertsen, B. T., Kontro, M., Porkka, K., Heckman, C. A., and Wennerberg, K. (2020). Pan-RAF inhibition induces apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia cells and synergizes with BCL2 inhibition. Leukemia, 1-11. doi: 10.1038/s41375-020-0972-0

Abstract

Pan-RAF inhibitors have shown promise as antitumor agents in RAS and RAF mutated solid cancers. However, the efficacy of pan-RAF inhibitors in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) has not previously been explored. In AML, the RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK (MAPK) pathway is one of the most aberrantly activated oncogenic pathways, but previous targeting of this pathway by MEK inhibitors has not proven effective in clinical trials. Here we show that pan-RAF inhibition, but not MEK inhibition, induced cell death in 29% of AML samples while being nontoxic toward healthy bone marrow cells. Mechanistically, pan-RAF inhibition downregulated MCL1 protein synthesis and induced apoptosis in cells dependent on MCL1 for their survival. Furthermore, the combination of a pan-RAF and a BCL2 inhibitor overcame resistance to either compound alone in AML cell lines, as well as synergized and induced long-term responses ex vivo in AML patient samples relapsed or refractory to azacitidine + venetoclax treatment. Together, our results indicate that pan-RAF inhibition, alone or in combination with BCL2 inhibition, is a promising treatment strategy for AML.