Dysregulation of apoptotic machinery is one mechanism by which acute myeloid leukemia (AML) acquires a clonal survival advantage. B-cell lymphoma protein-2 (BCL2) overexpression is a common feature in hematologic malignancies. The selective BCL2 inhibitor, venetoclax (VEN) is used in combination with azacitidine (AZA), a DNA-methyltransferase inhibitor (DNMTi), to treat patients with AML. Despite promising response rates to VEN/AZA, resistance to the agent is common. One identified mechanism of resistance is the upregulation of myeloid cell leukemia-1 protein (MCL1). Pevonedistat (PEV), a novel agent that inhibits NEDD8-activating enzyme, and AZA both upregulate NOXA (PMAIP1), a BCL2 family protein that competes with effector molecules at the BH3 binding site of MCL1. We demonstrate that PEV/AZA combination induces NOXA to a greater degree than either PEV or AZA alone, which enhances VEN-mediated apoptosis. Herein, using AML cell lines and primary AML patient samples ex vivo, including in cells with genetic alterations linked to treatment resistance, we demonstrate robust activity of the PEV/VEN/AZA triplet. These findings were corroborated in preclinical systemic engrafted models of AML. Collectively, these results provide preclinical rational for combining PEV/VEN/AZA as a novel therapeutic approach in overcoming AML resistance current therapies.
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