Mechanisms of Pinometostat (EPZ-5676) Treatment-Emergent Resistance in MLL-Rearranged Leukemia

DOT1L is a protein methyltransferase involved in the development and maintenance of MLL-rearranged (MLL-r) leukemia through its ectopic methylation of histones associated with well-characterized leukemic genes. Pinometostat (EPZ-5676), a selective inhibitor of DOT1L, is in clinical development in relapsed/refractory acute leukemia patients harboring rearrangements of the MLL gene. The observation of responses and subsequent relapses in the adult trial treating MLL-r patients motivated preclinical investigations into potential mechanisms of pinometostat treatment-emergent resistance (TER) in cell lines confirmed to have MLL-r. TER was achieved in five MLL-r cell lines, KOPN-8, MOLM-13, MV4-11, NOMO-1, and SEM. Two of the cell lines, KOPN-8 and NOMO-1, were thoroughly characterized to understand the mechanisms involved in pinometostat resistance. Unlike many other targeted therapies, resistance does not appear to be achieved through drug-induced selection of mutations of the target itself. Instead, we identified both drug efflux transporter dependent and independent mechanisms of resistance to pinometostat. In KOPN-8 TER cells, increased expression of the drug efflux transporter ABCB1 (P-glycoprotein, MDR1) was the primary mechanism of drug resistance. In contrast, resistance in NOMO-1 cells occurs through a mechanism other than upregulation of a specific efflux pump. RNA-seq analysis performed on both parental and resistant KOPN-8 and NOMO-1 cell lines supported two unique candidate pathway mechanisms that may explain the pinometostat resistance observed in these cell lines. These results are the first demonstration of TER models of the DOT1L inhibitor pinometostat and may provide useful tools for investigating clinical resistance.

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