Targeted inhibition of PI3Kα/δ is synergistic with BCL-2 blockade in genetically defined subtypes of DLBCL

Kamil Bojarczuk, Kirsty Wienand, Jeremy A. Ryan, Linfeng Chen, Mariana Villalobos-Ortiz, Elisa Mandato, Joanna Stachura, Anthony Letai, Lee N. Lawton, Bjoern Chapuy and Margaret A. Shipp

Key Points

  • A PI3K inhibitor with predominant α/δ activity, copanlisib, induces apoptosis and modulates BCL-xL and MCL-1 activity in BCR-dependent DLBCLs.

  • In BCR-dependent DLBCLs with genetic alterations of BCL2, the BCL-2 antagonist, venetoclax, and copanlisib are synergistic.


Inhibition of the B-cell receptor (BCR) signaling pathway is a promising treatment strategy in multiple B-cell malignancies. However, the role of BCR blockade in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) remains undefined. We recently characterized primary DLBCL subsets with distinct genetic bases for perturbed BCR/phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling and dysregulated B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL-2) expression. Herein, we explore the activity of PI3K inhibitors and BCL-2 blockade in a panel of functionally and genetically characterized DLBCL cell line models. A PI3K inhibitor with predominant α/δ activity, copanlisib, exhibited the highest cytotoxicity in all BCR-dependent DLBCLs. The proapoptotic effect of copanlisib was associated with DLBCL subtype-specific dysregulated expression of BCL-2 family members including harakiri (HRK) and its antiapoptotic partner BCL extra large (BCL-xL), BCL2 related protein A1, myeloid cell leukemia 1 (MCL-1), and BCL2 interacting mediator of cell death. Using functional BH3 profiling, we found that the cytotoxic activity of copanlisib was primarily mediated through BCL-xL and MCL-1–dependent mechanisms that might complement BCL-2 blockade. For these reasons, we evaluated single-agent activity of venetoclax in the DLBCLs and identified a subset with limited sensitivity to BCL-2 blockade despite having genetic bases of BCL-2 dysregulation. As these were largely BCR-dependent DLBCLs, we hypothesized that combined inhibition of PI3Kα/δ and BCL-2 would perturb BCR-dependent and BCL-2–mediated survival pathways. Indeed, we observed synergistic activity of copanlisib/venetoclax in BCR-dependent DLBCLs with genetic bases for BCL-2 dysregulation in vitro and confirmed these findings in a xenograft model. These results provide preclinical evidence for the rational combination of PI3Kα/δ and BCL-2 blockade in genetically defined DLBCLs.

  • Submitted August 29, 2018.
  • Accepted October 5, 2018.
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