The NEDD8-activating enzyme inhibitor MLN4924 induces DNA damage in Ph+ leukemia and sensitizes for ABL kinase inhibitors

The BCR-ABL1 fusion gene is the driver oncogene in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and Philadelphia-chromosome positive (Ph+) acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The introduction of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) targeting the ABL kinase (such as imatinib) has dramatically improved survival of CML and Ph+ ALL patients. However, primary and acquired resistance to TKIs remains a clinical challenge. Ph+ leukemia patients who achieve a complete cytogenetic (CCR) or deep molecular response (MR) (≥4.5log reduction in BCR-ABL1 transcripts) represent long-term survivors. Thus, the fast and early eradication of leukemic cells predicts MR and is the prime clinical goal for these patients. We show here that the first-in-class inhibitor of the Nedd8-activating enzyme (NAE1) MLN4924 effectively induced caspase-dependent apoptosis in Ph+ leukemia cells, and sensitized leukemic cells for ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) and hydroxyurea (HU). We demonstrate that MLN4924 induced DNA damage in Ph+ leukemia cells by provoking the activation of an intra S-phase checkpoint, which was enhanced by imatinib co-treatment. The combination of MLN4924 and imatinib furthermore triggered a dramatic shift in the expression of MCL1 and NOXA. Our data offers a clear rationale to explore the clinical activity of MLN4924 (alone and in combination with ABL TKI) in Ph+ leukemia patients