Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients with FLT3-ITD mutations have a high risk of relapse and death. FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors improve overall survival, but their efficacy is limited and most patients who relapse will ultimately die of the disease. Even with potent FLT3 inhibition, the disease persists within the bone marrow (BM) microenvironment, mainly due to BM stroma activating parallel signaling pathways that maintain pro-survival factors. BET inhibitors suppress pro-survival factors such as MYC and BCL2, but these drugs thus far have shown only limited single-agent clinical potential. We demonstrate here, using pre-clinical and clinical correlative studies, that the novel 4-azaindole derivative, PLX51107, has BET-inhibitory activity in vitro and in vivo. The combination of BET and FLT3 inhibition induces a synergistic anti-leukemic effect in a murine xenograft model of FLT3-ITD AML, and against primary FLT3-ITD AML cells co-cultured with BM stroma. Using suppression of MYC as a surrogate for BET inhibition, we demonstrate BET inhibition in human patients. The short plasma half-life of PLX51107 results in intermittent target inhibition to promote tolerability while overcoming the protective effect of the microenvironment. Mechanistically, the synergistic cytotoxicity is associated with suppression of key survival genes such as MYC. These data provide the scientific rationale for a clinical trial of a BET plus FLT3 inhibitor for the treatment of relapsed/refractory FLT3-ITD AML. A clinical trial of PLX51107 as monotherapy in patients with different malignancies is underway and will be reported separately.
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