Background: The tumour suppressor p53 is activated in response to various stress signals to induce transcriptional changes leading to cellular responses such as cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Activity of p53 is tightly regulated by the E3 ubiquitin ligase MDM2, which inhibits p53 function by, for example, targeting it for proteasomal degradation. Targeting the MDM2-p53 interaction to restore p53 function, is therefore, a promising strategy for cancer therapy and a number of these compounds are in clinical development including ASTX295 (NCT03975387). ASTX295 is a novel, orally bioavailable MDM2 antagonist developed through structure-based drug design that has demonstrated potent activity in a range of p53 wild-type pre-clinical models.
Aims: We investigated the therapeutic potential of ASTX295 alone and in combination with decitabine, a DNA- hypomethylating agent, in AML.
Methods: Primary blasts were isolated from AML patient samples using a combination of antibodies against CD34, CD33, CD45 and CD117. A panel of AML cell lines and primary AML blasts were treated with decitabine and ASTX295 at a range of concentrations, alone and in combination. After treatment, viability was assessed by Alamar blue assay or induction of apoptosis by flow cytometry using a fluorescent caspase substrate or Annexin V.
Effects of drug combinations were analysed using the Combenefit software based on different mathematical models (Loewe, bliss & HSA). Target engagement was confirmed by western blotting.
Results: When tested in a panel of p53 wild-type AML cell lines, ASTX295 exerted a strong anti-proliferative effect in which GI50 <30 nM was observed in 9 out of 11 cell lines. Additionally, p53 activation by ASTX295 triggered apoptosis in both AML cell lines, and primary AML blasts isolated from patients.
Activity of ASTX295 was further enhanced by combining with decitabine. Treatment of AML cell lines with ASTX295 and decitabine showed an increase in growth inhibitory effect and apoptosis compared to respective single agent treatments. This combinatory effect, as assessed by Combenefit, was also observed in primary AML blasts in which 7 of 12 samples tested demonstrated increased apoptosis at or above 300 nM ASTX295 and 100 nM decitabine. Target engagement of ASTX295 and decitabine was confirmed by upregulation of p53 transcriptional targets and decreased DNMT-1 expression.
Summary/Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate that the combination of ASTX295 with decitabine exhibits potent activity against p53 wild-type AML cells, and thus merits further investigation.