Drug resistance underpins poor outcomes in many malignancies including refractory and relapsed acute myeloid leukemia (R/R AML). Glucuronidation is a common mechanism of drug inactivation impacting many AML therapies e.g. cytarabine, decitabine, azacytidine and venetoclax. In AML cells, the capacity for glucuronidation arises from increased production of the UDP-glucuronosyltransferase 1A (UGT1A) enzymes. UGT1A elevation was first observed in AML patients who relapsed after response to ribavirin, a drug used to target the eukaryotic translation initiation factor eIF4E, and subsequently in patients who relapsed on cytarabine. UGT1A elevation resulted from increased expression of the sonic-hedgehog transcription factor GLI1. Vismodegib inhibited GLI1, decreased UGT1A levels, reduced glucuronidation of ribavirin and cytarabine and re-sensitized cells to these drugs. Here, we examined if UGT1A protein levels, and thus glucuronidation activity, were targetable in humans and if this corresponded to clinical response. We conducted a Phase II trial using vismodegib with ribavirin, with or without decitabine, in largely heavily pretreated patients with high-eIF4E AML. Pre-therapy molecular assessment of patients’ blasts indicated highly elevated UGT1A levels relative to healthy volunteers. Among patients with partial response, blast response or prolonged stable disease, vismodegib reduced UGT1A levels which corresponded to effective targeting of eIF4E by ribavirin. In all, our studies are the first to demonstrate that UGT1A protein, and thus glucuronidation, are targetable in humans. These studies pave the way for the development of therapies that impair glucuronidation, one of the most common drug deactivation modalities.
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