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Mol Cancer Ther. 2019 Apr;18(4):771-779. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-18-0755. Epub 2019 Mar 5.

Direct CDKN2 Modulation of CDK4 Alters Target Engagement of CDK4 Inhibitor Drugs.

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ActivX Biosciences, La Jolla, California.
Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), Barcelona, Spain.
ActivX Biosciences, La Jolla, California.


The interaction of a drug with its target is critical to achieve drug efficacy. In cases where cellular environment influences target engagement, differences between individuals and cell types present a challenge for a priori prediction of drug efficacy. As such, characterization of environments conducive to achieving the desired pharmacologic outcome is warranted. We recently reported that the clinical CDK4/6 inhibitor palbociclib displays cell type-specific target engagement: Palbociclib engaged CDK4 in cells biologically sensitive to the drug, but not in biologically insensitive cells. Here, we report a molecular explanation for this phenomenon. Palbociclib target engagement is determined by the interaction of CDK4 with CDKN2A, a physiologically relevant protein inhibitor of CDK4. Because both the drug and CDKN2A prevent CDK4 kinase activity, discrimination between these modes of inhibition is not possible by traditional kinase assays. Here, we describe a chemo-proteomics approach that demonstrates high CDK4 target engagement by palbociclib in cells without functional CDKN2A and attenuated target engagement when CDKN2A (or related CDKN2/INK4 family proteins) is abundant. Analysis of biological sensitivity in engineered isogenic cells with low or absent CDKN2A and of a panel of previously characterized cell lines indicates that high levels of CDKN2A predict insensitivity to palbociclib, whereas low levels do not correlate with sensitivity. Therefore, high CDKN2A may provide a useful biomarker to exclude patients from CDK4/6 inhibitor therapy. This work exemplifies modulation of kinase target engagement by endogenous proteinaceous regulators and highlights the importance of cellular context in predicting inhibitor efficacy.

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