Heightman et al., “Discovery of ASTX029, A Clinical Candidate Which Modulates the Phosphorylation and Catalytic Activity of ERK1/2”

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https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.jmedchem.1c00905

Abstract

Aberrant activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway frequently drives tumor growth, and the ERK1/2 kinases are positioned at a key node in this pathway, making them important targets for therapeutic intervention. Recently, a number of ERK1/2 inhibitors have been advanced to investigational clinical trials in patients with activating mutations in B-Raf proto-oncogene or Ras. Here, we describe the discovery of the clinical candidate ASTX029 (15) through structure-guided optimization of our previously published isoindolinone lead (7). The medicinal chemistry campaign focused on addressing CYP3A4-mediated metabolism and maintaining favorable physicochemical properties. These efforts led to the identification of ASTX029, which showed the desired pharmacological profile combining ERK1/2 inhibition with suppression of phospho-ERK1/2 (pERK) levels, and in addition, it possesses suitable preclinical pharmacokinetic properties predictive of once daily dosing in humans. ASTX029 is currently in a phase I–II clinical trial in patients with advanced solid tumors.

Munck et al., “ASTX029, a Novel Dual-Mechanism ERK Inhibitor, Modulates Both the Phosphorylation and Catalytic Activity of ERK”

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https://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2021/07/30/1535-7163.MCT-20-0909#:~:text=ASTX029%20is%20a%20highly%20potent,not%20directly%20inhibiting%20MEK%20activity

Abstract

The MAPK signaling pathway is commonly upregulated in human cancers. As the primary downstream effector of the MAPK pathway, ERK is an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of MAPK-activated cancers and for overcoming resistance to upstream inhibition. ASTX029 is a highly potent and selective dual-mechanism ERK inhibitor, discovered using fragment-based drug design. Due to its distinctive ERK binding mode, ASTX029 inhibits both ERK catalytic activity and the phosphorylation of ERK itself by MEK, despite not directly inhibiting MEK activity. This dual-mechanism was demonstrated in cell-free systems, as well as cell lines and xenograft tumor tissue, where the phosphorylation of both ERK and its substrate, RSK, were modulated on treatment with ASTX029. Markers of sensitivity were highlighted in a large cell panel, where ASTX029 preferentially inhibited the proliferation of MAPK-activated cell lines, including those with BRAF or RAS mutations. In vivo, significant anti-tumor activity was observed in MAPK-activated tumor xenograft models following oral treatment. ASTX029 also demonstrated activity in both in vitro and in vivo models of acquired resistance to MAPK pathway inhibitors. Overall, these findings highlight the therapeutic potential of a dual-mechanism ERK inhibitor such as ASTX029 for the treatment of MAPK-activated cancers, including those which have acquired resistance to inhibitors of upstream components of the MAPK pathway. ASTX029 is currently being evaluated in a first in human Phase I-II clinical trial in patients with advanced solid tumors (NCT03520075).

2021 AACR: A first-in-human, Phase 1 study of ASTX029, a dual-mechanism inhibitor of ERK1/2, in relapsed/refractory solid tumors

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A first-in-human, Phase 1 study of ASTX029, a dual-mechanism inhibitor of ERK1/2, in relapsed/refractory solid tumors

Abstract:

Background: The RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK pathway is commonly upregulated in human cancers. This is an open-label Phase 1 study of ASTX029, a dual-mechanism extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) inhibitor, in subjects with relapsed/refractory solid tumors (NCT03520075).

Methods: The primary objectives are to identify a maximum tolerated dose and/or recommended Phase 2 dose. ASTX029 was administered orally daily of 21-day cycles as powder-in-bottle (PiB, Cohort 1/10mg) and tablet formulation (beginning with Cohort 6/80 mg) under fed conditions, and as tablet formulation under fasting conditions (beginning with Cohort 8/40 mg). Dose escalation occurred according to a “3+3 design” based on dose-limiting toxicity (DLT) events. Disease response was evaluated according to RECIST v1.1 and exploratory indicators, including tumor variant allele frequency changes detected by cell-free DNA (cfDNA) quantitation.

Results: 56 subjects were treated with at least one dose of ASTX029 in Phase 1A (dose escalation). Of 46 subjects with data, 35 (76%) had any RAS mutations and 3 (9%) had BRAF mutations; 1 subject had both. At the 200 mg dose level (Cohort 5, PiB/fed), one of six evaluable subjects developed a DLT (grade 3 maculopapular rash). At the 280 mg dose level (Cohort 12, tablet/fasting), two subjects experienced grade 2 central serous retinopathy adverse events (CSR AEs) within a few days of dosing. These were the only CSR AEs noted and one event was declared a DLT. Both subjects recovered to baseline within days of dose interruption. One cohort level below this dose was expanded (Cohort 11/200 mg, tablet/fasting); this dose level was deemed safe (without a DLT or grade ≥2 visual AE in 7 subjects) and was selected for Phase 1B dose expansion. Mean pharmacokinetic (PK) exposure was 151% of target exposure, which is defined as the level expected to have biological activity based on animal studies. The most frequent grade ≥2 AEs assessed as drug-related included nausea (4 subjects, grade 2) and transaminitis (4 subjects: 3 grade 2, 1 grade 3). The grade 3 transaminitis occurred in a subject with metastatic sarcoma involving the liver. There was one serious AE of malaise considered related to study drug. Two subjects, one with KRAS-G12A and BRAF-D549N non-small cell lung cancer (120 mg) and one with KRAS-G12D metastatic pancreatic cancer (200 mg), achieved partial responses (cycle 15/ongoing and cycle 3/ongoing, respectively). In 2 subjects with stable disease as the best response, longitudinal cfDNA sequencing showed a decrease of tumor variant allele frequencies after 2 cycles of ASTX029, followed by a return to baseline levels before disease progression. The most common reason for ASTX029 discontinuation was disease progression.

Conclusions: This Phase 1A study of the ERK1/2 inhibitor ASTX029 has identified a dose level of 200 mg daily of a 21-day cycle for investigation in the Phase 1B portion of the study. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data suggest target exposures are achieved with preliminary clinical activity.

2020 ASH: Anti-tumor Activity of ASTX029, a Dual Mechanism Inhibitor of ERK1/2, in Preclinical AML Models

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Anti-tumor Activity of ASTX029, a Dual Mechanism Inhibitor of ERK1/2, in Preclinical AML Models

Abstract:

Oncogenic mutations in genes such as the RAS family (KRAS, NRAS or HRAS) or receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) drive tumor growth through aberrant activation of the mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients frequently exhibit activating mutations in MAPK pathway members, such as NRAS and KRAS, suggesting that these malignancies may be driven by aberrant activation of the MAPK pathway. Targeting of the MAPK pathway has been clinically validated in solid tumors, with agents targeting BRAF and MEK approved for the treatment of BRAF-mutant melanoma. However, there is currently no approved therapy directly targeting activated RAS family members and resistance to MAPK pathway inhibitors is frequently associated with reactivation of MAPK signaling. ERK1/2 (ERK) is a downstream node in the MAPK pathway and therefore represents an attractive therapeutic target for inhibition of MAPK signaling in these settings.

We have recently described in vivo anti-tumor activity in MAPK-activated solid tumor models following treatment with ASTX029, a highly potent ERK inhibitor developed using fragment-based drug design. ASTX029 has a distinctive ERK binding mode which confers dual mechanism inhibition of ERK, inhibiting both the catalytic activity of ERK and its phosphorylation by MEK. Here, we demonstrate that ASTX029 is also active in AML models and potently inhibits in vitro and in vivo MAPK signaling and growth in these models.

Using a panel of 15 AML cell lines, we investigated sensitivity to ASTX029 in vitro. We observed that 8 cell lines bearing mutations leading to increased MAPK pathway signaling were sensitive to treatment with ASTX029 with an average IC50 value of 47 nM, in contrast to an average IC50 value of 1800 nM for cell lines without activating mutations. The phosphorylation of RSK, a direct substrate of ERK, was suppressed for up to 24 h following treatment with ASTX029 in vitro. We have previously demonstrated good oral bioavailability for ASTX029 and once daily dosing resulted in significant tumor growth inhibition in AML cell line xenograft models. To confirm target engagement in vivo, we examined MAPK signaling in xenograft tissue and observed inhibition of the phosphorylation of RSK and of ERK itself, consistent with the dual mechanism of action proposed for ASTX029.

In summary, the ERK inhibitor, ASTX029, has potent activity against MAPK-activated tumor models, including AML models, and is now being tested in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial in advanced solid tumors (NCT03520075). These data highlight its therapeutic potential for the treatment of AML in patients with mutations leading to MAPK pathway activation and support further investigation in these patient populations.

Combined inhibition of SHP2 and ERK enhances anti-tumor effects in preclinical models

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Combined inhibition of SHP2 and ERK enhances anti-tumor effects in preclinical models

Summary

MAPK signalling is frequently dysregulated in cancer. The pathway can Panel composition and the number of responding cell lines Examples of dose-response curves Anti-tumor activity of SHP2i, ASTX029 and combination in MIA PaCa-2 xenograft be targeted by inhibition of different nodes and is tightly regulated by feedback mechanisms. Resistance to single-agent therapies frequently occurs through several different mechanisms including upregulation of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), therefore, combination therapies are of interest.

The Src homology region 2 (SH2)-containing protein tyrosine phosphatase 2 (SHP2) is a key regulator of MAPK pathway downstream of RTKs and upstream of RAS, whilst ERK acts at the bottom of the pathway phosphorylating multiple substrates.

We investigated the potential of targeting the MAPK pathway through a combination of SHP2 and ERK inhibition in preclinical models. Using a SHP2 inhibitor (SHP2i) discovered by our structure-based drug discovery programme and ASTX029, an ERK inhibitor in a Phase I-II clinical trial (NCT03520075), we tested panels of cell lines representing various indications and genetic backgrounds in vitro and confirmed enhanced tumor growth inhibition by the combination in a xenograft model.

The clinical candidate, ASTX029, is a novel, dual mechanism ERK1/2 Inhibitor and has potent activity in MAPK-activated cancer cell lines and in vivo tumor models

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The clinical candidate, ASTX029, is a novel, dual mechanism ERK1/2 Inhibitor and has potent activity in MAPK-activated cancer cell lines and in vivo tumor models

Summary

  • The MAPK signaling pathway is commonly upregulated in human cancers due to oncogenic mutations of upstream
    components such as BRAF or KRAS.
  • MAPK pathway inhibition has been clinically validated by BRAF and MEK inhibitors.
  • As the final node in the MAPK pathway, ERK is an attractive therapeutic target for the treatment of MAPK-activated cancers, including those resistant to upstream inhibition.
  • Previously we described the fragment-based discovery of a chemical series targeting ERK[1]. Here we disclose for the first time the structure of the clinical candidate, ASTX029.

References:

  1. Heightman et al., (2018). J Med Chem 61; 4978

2019: Dual-mechanism ERK1/2 inhibitors exploit a distinct binding mode to block phosphorylation and nuclear accumulation of ERK1/2

Summary
The RAS-regulated RAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway is frequently deregulated in cancer due to activating mutations of growth factor receptors, RAS or BRAF. Both RAF and MEK1/2 inhibitors are clinically approved and various ERK1/2 inhibitors (ERKi) are currently undergoing clinical trials. To date ERKi display two distinct mechanisms of action (MoA); catalytic ERKi solely inhibit ERK1/2 catalytic activity, whereas dual mechanism ERKi additionally prevent the activating phosphorylation of ERK1/2 at its T-E-Y motif by MEK1/2. These differences may impart significant differences in biological activity because T-E-Y phosphorylation is the signal for nuclear entry of ERK1/2, allowing them to access many key transcription factor targets. Here, we characterised the MoA of five ERKi and examined their functional consequences in terms of ERK1/2 signalling, gene expression and antiproliferative efficacy. We demonstrate that catalytic ERKi promote a striking nuclear accumulation of p-ERK1/2 in KRAS mutant cell lines. In contrast, dual mechanism ERKi exploit a distinct binding mode to block ERK1/2 phosphorylation by MEK1/2, exhibit superior potency and prevent the nuclear accumulation of ERK1/2. Consequently, dual-mechanism ERKi exhibit more durable pathway inhibition and enhanced suppression of ERK1/2-dependent gene expression compared to catalytic ERKi, resulting in increased efficacy across BRAF and RAS mutant cell lines.

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Dual-mechanism ERK1/2 inhibitors exploit a distinct binding mode to block phosphorylation and nuclear accumulation of ERK1/2

A novel ERK inhibitor has potent activity in NRAS-mutant melanoma cancer models

Introduction

  • NRAS mutations occur in 15-20% of mutant melanoma cancer patients. Currently there is no approved therapy for NRAS-mutant melanoma, an indication which is associated with aggressive clinical outcome and a poor prognosis.
  • The NRAS mutation leads to constitutive activation of the MAPK pathway. ERK is the primary downstream effector of MAPK and its direct inhibition may provide an attractive therapeutic approach for the treatment of NRAS-mutant
    melanoma.
  • As previously described, using fragment-based drug discovery we have identified a novel and selective inhibitor of ERK which inhibits in vitro ERK catalytic activity as well as ERK phosphorylation1.
  • Here, we demonstrate the in vitro and in vivo activity of a novel, highly potent, elective ERK inhibitor in models of NRAS-mutant melanoma.

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A novel ERK inhibitor has potent activity in NRAS-mutant melanoma cancer models

2018 AACR: A novel ERK1/2 inhibitor has potent activity in KRAS-mutant non-small cell lung cancer models

Summary
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) molecular profiling is a key factor in treatment selection. Although, patients with NSCLC tumors harboring EGFR or ALK mutations can benefit from personalized therapies, there are currently no approved targeted therapies for KRAS mutant tumors which occur in 25% to 30% of patients with NSCLC. The constitutive activation of the MAPK pathway in these tumors provides a rationale for targeting effectors such as MEK1/2 (MEK) or ERK1/2 (ERK). Inhibitor of MEK kinase have been tested clinically in KRAS-mutant NSCLC but results have been disappointing, possibly because compensatory signalling such as the reactivation of ERK is triggered following the inhibition of MEK, leading to cancer cell survival. Therefore, targeting ERK directly represents an attractive therapeutic approach. As previously described, we have developed a novel, potent and selective ERK inhibitor identified by fragment-based drug discovery which has potent activity in vitro and in vivo. Here, we demonstrate the activity of this lead compound in KRAS-mutant NSCLC models.
Our novel ERK inhibitor was tested in a panel of 440 human cancer cell lines of which the KRAS NSCLC population was identified as particularly sensitive. 62% of the KRAS-mutant NSCLC cell lines tested, exhibited antiproliferative IC50s ranging from 1 nM to 500 nM. This lead compound also inhibited ERK downstream signalling in KRAS NSCLC models both in vitro and in vivo. Indeed, the phosphorylation level of the ERK substrate, RSK, was strongly decreased in HCC-44 and Calu-6 xenograft tumors 2h after the oral administration of the lead compound at 50 mg/kg. Levels of pRSK remained below those of untreated tumors for up to 16h in HCC-44 tumors and 24h in Calu-6 tumors. We also confirmed that, the ERK inhibitor conferred a decrease in phosphorylation of ERK itself in both models. The inhibition of ERK signalling corresponded to significant anti-tumour activity in these models with a daily oral administration of 50 mg/kg compound leading to significant tumor regression in subcutaneous models of HCC-44 (18.3% T/C) and Calu-6 (8.9% T/C) xenograft tumors.
This work demonstrates the in vitro and in vivo activity of a novel, highly potent, selective ERK inhibitor in models of KRAS-mutant NSCLC. These data support the further optimisation of this series of compounds for clinical development.

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A novel ERK1/2 inhibitor has potent activity in KRAS-mutant non-small cell lung cancer models