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J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2019 Dec 23. pii: jpet.119.262063. doi: 10.1124/jpet.119.262063. [Epub ahead of print]

Relative Selectivity of Covalent Inhibitors Requires Assessment of Inactivation Kinetics and Cellular Occupancy: A Case Study of Ibrutinib and Acalabrutinib.

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Pharmacyclics LLC, an AbbVie Company.
Pharmacyclics LLC, an AbbVie Company


Kinases form an attractive class of targets for small molecule inhibitors, but similarity among their adenosine triphosphate binding sites presents difficulties for developing selective drugs. Standard methods of evaluating selectivity of most reversibly bound drugs account for binding affinity, but not the two-step process, affinity and inactivation, occurring during covalent inhibition. To illustrate this concept, we assessed the selectivity of Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) over TEC kinases by two novel therapeutics: ibrutinib and acalabrutinib. The two-step process and time-dependent inhibition unique to covalent inhibitors were evaluated with two biochemical assays measuring enzymatic function and inhibition kinetics. The selectivity for BTK over TEC found in these biochemical analyses was 1 -1.5 for ibrutinib and 3.0 - 4.2 for acalabrutinib. To further assess drug selectivity in a more physiologically-relevant context, we developed cell-based occupancy assays that quantify the percentage of drug-inactivated kinases. Cellular selectivity of BTK over TEC was determined after MWCL-1 cells and samples from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) were treated for therapeutically-relevant durations and concentrations based on human pharmacokinetics of each drug. In MWCL-1 cells, BTK/TEC selectivities measured at 0.5, 1, and 3 hours were 2.53, 1.05, and 1.51 for ibrutinib and 0.97, 1.13, and 2.56 for acalabrutinib, respectively. The equivalent selectivity measured in samples from patients with CLL were 1.31 ± 0.27 and 1.09 ± 0.11 for ibrutinib and acalabrutinib, respectively. Collectively, our data show that when properly accounting for time-dependent factors and relevant cellular context, ibrutinib and acalabrutinib demonstrate similar selectivity for BTK over TEC. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: This study shows relative selectivity of covalent inhibitors toward different kinase targets should be assessed with both affinity and inactivation kinetics to accurately account for time-dependent effects of covalent binding and assessed in a cellular matrix to reproduce the physiologic context of target inhibition. This is illustrated with a case study of ibrutinib and acalabrutinib for which selectivity assessment with appropriate assays, versus measuring binding affinity with KINOMEscan alone, corroborate emerging clinical data demonstrating similar safety profiles between the therapies.


cancer; clinical pharmacokinetics; covalent drug binding; human pharmacokinetics; kinases; molecular drug targeting; tyrosine kinases

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