Research ArticleCancer

Dual inhibition of MDMX and MDM2 as a therapeutic strategy in leukemia

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Science Translational Medicine  11 Apr 2018:
Vol. 10, Issue 436, eaao3003
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao3003

A new staple of leukemia treatment?

As suggested by their name, tumor suppressor genes prevent tumorigenesis, and their expression or activity is often lost in cancer cells. One of the best known tumor suppressors is p53, which is inactivated in a variety of cancer types, often through up-regulation of its endogenous suppressors. Despite numerous attempts to reactivate p53 by a variety of approaches, none have successfully advanced beyond clinical trials thus far. Now, Carvajal et al. applied yet another tactic to restore p53 activity by using a stapled peptide to inactivate both of its endogenous inhibitors, for situations where the tumor suppressor is inactive but not completely lost. The authors demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in human acute myeloid leukemia using in vitro and in vivo models, along with preliminary testing in a patient with leukemia.


The tumor suppressor p53 is often inactivated via its interaction with endogenous inhibitors mouse double minute 4 homolog (MDM4 or MDMX) or mouse double minute 2 homolog (MDM2), which are frequently overexpressed in patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and other cancers. Pharmacological disruption of both of these interactions has long been sought after as an attractive strategy to fully restore p53-dependent tumor suppressor activity in cancers with wild-type p53. Selective targeting of this pathway has thus far been limited to MDM2-only small-molecule inhibitors, which lack affinity for MDMX. We demonstrate that dual MDMX/MDM2 inhibition with a stapled α-helical peptide (ALRN-6924), which has recently entered phase I clinical testing, produces marked antileukemic effects. ALRN-6924 robustly activates p53-dependent transcription at the single-cell and single-molecule levels and exhibits biochemical and molecular biological on-target activity in leukemia cells in vitro and in vivo. Dual MDMX/MDM2 inhibition by ALRN-6924 inhibits cellular proliferation by inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in cell lines and primary AML patient cells, including leukemic stem cell–enriched populations, and disrupts functional clonogenic and serial replating capacity. Furthermore, ALRN-6924 markedly improves survival in AML xenograft models. Our study provides mechanistic insight to support further testing of ALRN-6924 as a therapeutic approach in AML and other cancers with wild-type p53.

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