Haematologica 2017 09 8;102(9):1519-1529. Epub 2017 Jun 8.
Department of Internal Medicine I, Division of Hematology and Hemostaseology, Medical University of Vienna, Austria.
In chronic myeloid leukemia, resistance against BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors can develop because of mutations, activation of additional pro-oncogenic pathways, and stem cell resistance. Drug combinations covering a broad range of targets may overcome resistance. CDDO-Me (bardoxolone methyl) is a drug that inhibits the survival of leukemic cells by targeting different pro-survival molecules, including STAT3. We found that CDDO-Me inhibits proliferation and survival of tyrosine kinase inhibitor-resistant cell lines and primary leukemic cells, including cells harboring or T315I compound mutations. Furthermore, CDDO-Me was found to block growth and survival of CD34/CD38 leukemic stem cells (LSC). Moreover, CDDO-Me was found to produce synergistic growth-inhibitory effects when combined with BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These drug-combinations were found to block multiple signaling cascades and molecules, including STAT3 and STAT5. Furthermore, combined targeting of STAT3 and STAT5 by shRNA and STAT5-targeting drugs also resulted in synergistic growth-inhibition, pointing to a new efficient concept of combinatorial STAT3 and STAT5 inhibition. However, CDDO-Me was also found to increase the expression of heme-oxygenase-1, a heat-shock-protein that triggers drug resistance and cell survival. We therefore combined CDDO-Me with the heme-oxygenase-1 inhibitor SMA-ZnPP, which also resulted in synergistic growth-inhibitory effects. Moreover, SMA-ZnPP was found to sensitize cells against the combination 'CDDO-Me+ tyrosine kinase inhibitor'. Together, combined targeting of STAT3, STAT5, and heme-oxygenase-1 overcomes resistance in cells, including stem cells and highly resistant sub-clones expressing BCR-ABL1 or T315I-compound mutations. Whether such drug-combinations are effective in tyrosine kinase inhibitor-resistant patients with chronic myeloid leukemia remains to be elucidated.