Alvocidib Potentiates the Activity of Venetoclax in Preclinical Models of Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Clifford J. Whatcott, James M Bogenberger, Wontak Kim, Hillary Haws, Nanna Hansen, Devora Delman, Lisa Sproat, Jeanne Palmer, Ruben A. Mesa, Peter Peterson, Adam Siddiqui-Jain, Steven Weitman, David J. Bearss, Steven L. Warner and Raoul Tibes



Venetoclax (ABT-199) is an approved BCL-2 inhibitor for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Multiple clinical trials are underway to explore its efficacy in additional indications. While venetoclax demonstrated high remission rates in combination with azacitidine in early stage clinical trials, the question of durability of responses and primary and acquired resistance remain, especially given the modest activity and rapid development of resistance as a single agent. One reported mechanism of intrinsic resistance is high expression of other BCL-2 family proteins, including MCL-1. We and others have demonstrated that the CDK9 inhibitor, alvocidib, can mediate transcriptional repression of anti-apoptotic MCL-1. It has also been shown that alvocidib can increase pro-apoptotic BIM, a dual activator and sensitizer BH3-only protein that can directly induce apoptosis and simultaneously inactivate anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins such as MCL-1 and BCL-2, thus having the same effect on mitochondria-associated apoptosis as MCL-1 down-regulation, with the potential to directly induce apoptosis. An alvocidib-containing cytotoxic chemotherapy regimen demonstrated favorable remission rates in high-risk AML patients over standard therapy in a randomized Phase 2 trial indicating its potential role and safety in AML. We hypothesized that alvocidib and venetoclax would synergize against AML cells by shifting the overall balance of pro- and anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins in favor of apoptosis and thus represent a novel active treatment regimen in AML.


This study seeks to examine the efficacy of a treatment regimen containing alvocidib and venetoclax in multiple preclinical studies, including in vivo models of AML.


Cell viability assays interrogating alvocidib and venetoclax activity in cell lines were performed using CellTiter-Glo according to manufacturer's protocol. mRNA/miRNA expression changes were assessed using standard RT-PCR technique. Protein expression changes were assessed using standard western immunoblotting technique. To assess the efficacy of an alvocidib and venetoclax combination on tumor growth in an in vivo model, the OCI-AML3 xenograft mouse model and ex vivo studies with AML patient samples were performed.


Herein we demonstrate that alvocidib inhibits both mRNA and protein expression of MCL-1 in a time and concentration-dependent fashion in 3 out of 4 AML cell lines analyzed, while in cells where alvocidib did not reduce MCL-1 protein levels (i.e. MOLM-13) a dose-dependent decrease in miR17-92, and concomitant increase in BIM protein was observed after 24 hours of alvocidib treatment. The alvocidib-venetoclax combination resulted in very strong synergistic reductions of cell viability (with combination indices [CI] of 0.4 to 0.7), both in venetoclax-sensitive and resistant cells. The venetoclax-sensitive lines, MV4-11 and MOLM-13, exhibited 5- to 10-fold reduction of venetoclax EC50 values in the low nM range when combined with only 80 nM alvocidib. Importantly, venetoclax-resistant lines, OCI-AML3 and THP-1, exhibited at least 20-fold reduction of venetoclax EC50 values from near 1 µM to 10-50 nM, when combined with 80 nM alvocidib.In the venetoclax-resistant OCI-AML3 xenograft model, single agent alvocidib and venetoclax achieved tumor growth inhibition (TGI) of 9.7 and 31.5%, respectively, while the combination achieved 87.9% TGI at the same dose levels of individual drugs.


Taken together, our data suggest that the combination of alvocidib with venetoclax is highly synergistic in vitro and in vivo, in both venetoclax-sensitive and -resistant AML across a heterogeneous genomic background. The particularly high level of synergy achieved in venetoclax-resistant cell lines highlights the central importance of both BCL-2 and MCL-1-mediated cell survival in AML. Importantly, the addition of alvocidib to venetoclax treatment reduced IC50s to clinically achievable concentrations. Therefore, we conclude that an alvocidib/venetoclax combination may be a novel approach for the treatment of AML and warrants further pre-clinical and clinical validation.

Disclosures Whatcott: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Kim: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Haws: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Mesa: Celgene: Research Funding; Galena: Consultancy; Promedior: Research Funding; Ariad: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy; CTI: Research Funding; Incyte: Research Funding; Gilead: Research Funding. Peterson: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Siddiqui-Jain: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Weitman: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment. Bearss: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties. Warner: Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties.

  • * Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.