Artemisinins are active against human leukemia cell lines and have low clinical toxicity in worldwide use as antimalarials. Because multiagent combination regimens are necessary to cure fully evolved leukemias, we sought to leverage our previous finding that artemisinin analogs synergize with kinase inhibitors, including sorafenib (SOR), by identifying additional synergistic antileukemic drugs with low toxicity. Screening of a targeted antineoplastic drug library revealed that B-cell lymphoma 2 (BCL2) inhibitors synergize with artemisinins, and validation assays confirmed that the selective BCL2 inhibitor, venetoclax (VEN), synergized with artemisinin analogs to inhibit growth and induce apoptotic cell death of multiple acute leukemia cell lines in vitro. An oral 3-drug “SAV” regimen (SOR plus the potent artemisinin-derived trioxane diphenylphosphate 838 dimeric analog [ART838] plus VEN) killed leukemia cell lines and primary cells in vitro. Leukemia cells cultured in ART838 had decreased induced myeloid leukemia cell differentiation protein (MCL1) levels and increased levels of DNA damage-inducible transcript 3 (DDIT3; GADD153) messenger RNA and its encoded CCATT/enhancer-binding protein homologous protein (CHOP), a key component of the integrated stress response. Thus, synergy of the SAV combination may involve combined targeting of MCL1 and BCL2 via discrete, tolerable mechanisms, and cellular levels of MCL1 and DDIT3/CHOP may serve as biomarkers for action of artemisinins and SAV. Finally, SAV treatment was tolerable and resulted in deep responses with extended survival in 2 acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cell line xenograft models, both harboring a mixed lineage leukemia gene rearrangement and an FMS-like receptor tyrosine kinase-3 internal tandem duplication, and inhibited growth in 2 AML primagraft models.
ASJC Scopus subject areas