Purpose: MERTK tyrosine kinase is ectopically expressed in 30% to 50% of acute lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL) and more than 80% of acute myeloid leukemias (AML) and is a potential therapeutic target. Here, we evaluated the utility of UNC2025, a MERTK tyrosine kinase inhibitor, for treatment of acute leukemia.
Experimental Design: Preclinical in vitro and in vivo assays using cell lines and primary leukemia patient samples were used to evaluate antileukemic effects of UNC2025.
Results: UNC2025 potently inhibited prosurvival signaling, induced apoptosis, and reduced proliferation and colony formation in MERTK-expressing ALL and AML cell lines and patient samples. Approximately 30% of primary leukemia patient samples (78 of 261 total) were sensitive to UNC2025. Sensitive samples were most prevalent in the AML, T-ALL, and minimally differentiated (M0) AML subsets. UNC2025 inhibited MERTK in bone marrow leukemia cells and had significant therapeutic effects in xenograft models, with dose-dependent decreases in tumor burden and consistent two-fold increases in median survival, irrespective of starting disease burden. In a patient-derived AML xenograft model, treatment with UNC2025 induced disease regression. In addition, UNC2025 increased sensitivity to methotrexate in vivo, suggesting that addition of MERTK-targeted therapy to current cytotoxic regimens may be particularly effective and/or allow for chemotherapy dose reduction.
Conclusions: The broad-spectrum activity mediated by UNC2025 in leukemia patient samples and xenograft models, alone or in combination with cytotoxic chemotherapy, supports continued development of MERTK inhibitors for treatment of leukemia. Clin Cancer Res; 23(6); 1481–92. ©2016 AACR.
This article is featured in Highlights of This Issue, p. 1363
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Clinical Cancer Research Online (http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received June 2, 2016.
- Revision received September 8, 2016.
- Accepted September 8, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.