The rise of apoptosis: targeting apoptosis in hematologic malignancies

Rebecca Valentin, Stephanie Grabow and Matthew S. Davids


Dysregulation of the B-cell leukemia/lymphoma-2 (BCL-2) family of proteins of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway is fundamental to the pathophysiology of many hematologic malignancies. The BCL-2 family consists of regulatory proteins that either induce apoptosis (proapoptotic) or inhibit it (prosurvival). BCL-2, myeloid cell leukemia-1, and B-cell lymphoma–extra large are prosurvival proteins that are prime targets for anticancer therapy, and molecules targeting each are in various stages of preclinical and clinical development. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax was first proven to be highly effective in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and some B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma subtypes. Subsequently, venetoclax was found to be active clinically against a diverse array of hematologic malignancies including multiple myeloma, acute myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and others. Here, we give a brief introduction to BCL-2 family biology and the mechanism of action of BCL-2 Homology 3 (BH3) mimetics, and provide an overview of the clinical data for therapeutically targeting prosurvival proteins in hematologic malignancies, with a focus on BCL-2 inhibition. To prioritize novel agent combinations and predict responders, we discuss the utility of functional assays such as BH3 profiling. Finally, we provide a perspective on how therapies targeting BCL-2 family proteins may be optimally implemented into future therapeutic regimens for hematologic malignancies.

  • Submitted February 18, 2018.
  • Accepted July 11, 2018.
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