Inhibition of Mcl-1 with the pan–Bcl-2 family inhibitor (–)BI97D6 overcomes ABT-737 resistance in acute myeloid leukemia

Rongqing Pan, Vivian R. Ruvolo, Jun Wei, Marina Konopleva, John C. Reed, Maurizio Pellecchia, Michael Andreeff and Peter P. Ruvolo

Key points

  • Mcl-1 inhibition by pan-active Bcl-2 inhibitor (–)BI97D6 kills AML cells via induction of mitochondrial apoptosis.

  • Mcl-1 inhibition by (–)BI97D6 overcomes intrinsic and extrinsic drug resistance to ABT-737.


Overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins such as Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, and Mcl-1 is widely associated with tumor initiation, progression, and chemoresistance. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that Mcl-1 upregulation renders several types of cancers resistant to Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitors ABT-737 and ABT-263. The emerging importance of Mcl-1 in pathogenesis and drug resistance makes it a high-priority therapeutic target. In this study, we showed that inhibition of Mcl-1 with a novel pan–Bcl-2 inhibitor (–)BI97D6 potently induced apoptosis in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells. (–)BI97D6 induced hallmarks of mitochondrial apoptosis, disrupted Mcl-1/Bim and Bcl-2/Bax interactions, and stimulated cell death via the Bak/Bax-dependent mitochondrial apoptosis pathway, suggesting on-target mechanisms. As a single agent, this pan–Bcl-2 inhibitor effectively overcame AML cell apoptosis resistance mediated by Mcl-1 or by interactions with bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells. (–)BI97D6 was also potent in killing refractory primary AML cells. Importantly, (–)BI97D6 killed AML leukemia stem/progenitor cells while largely sparing normal hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells. These findings demonstrate that pan–Bcl-2 inhibition by a Mcl-1–targeting inhibitor not only overcomes intrinsic drug resistance ensuing from functional redundancy of Bcl-2 proteins, but also abrogates extrinsic resistance caused by the protective tumor microenvironment.

  • Submitted October 7, 2014.
  • Accepted May 18, 2015.