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Targeting WEE1 kinase as a p53-independent therapeutic strategy in high-risk and relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hayden Bell, Dr Helen Blair, Mankaran Singh, Professor Anthony MoormanORCiD, Professor Olaf Heidenreich, Dr Frederik van DelftORCiD, Professor John LunecORCiD, Professor Julie Irving



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2023, BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature. Background: Outcomes for patients with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are poor and there is a need for novel therapies to improve outcomes. Targeted inhibition of WEE1 with small-molecule inhibitor adavosertib (AZD1775) has emerged as a therapeutic strategy to sensitize cancer cells to DNA-damaging chemotherapeutics, particularly in the context of TP53-mutated tumors. However, WEE1 inhibition as a potential therapeutic strategy for patients with high-risk and relapsed ALL, including those with TP53 mutations, has not been definitively evaluated. Methods: Anti-leukemic effects of adavosertib were investigated using a relapsed TP53 isogenic cell model system, primary patient, and patient-derived ALL samples (n = 27) in an ex vivo co-culture model system with bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells. Combination effects with drugs currently used for relapsed ALL were quantified by Excess over Bliss analyses. Investigations for alterations of cell cycle and apoptosis as well as related proteins were examined by flow cytometry and Western blot, respectively. Results: Our study demonstrates the potent anti-leukemic activity of the clinically advanced WEE1 inhibitor adavosertib in a large majority (n = 18/27) of high-risk and relapsed ALL specimens at lower than clinically attainable concentrations, independent of TP53 mutation status. We show that treatment with adavosertib results in S-phase disruption even in the absence of DNA-damaging agents and that premature mitotic entry is not a prerequisite for its anti-leukemic effects. We further demonstrate that WEE1 inhibition additively and synergistically enhances the anti-leukemic effects of multiple conventional chemotherapeutics used in the relapsed ALL treatment setting. Particularly, we demonstrate the highly synergistic and cytotoxic combination of adavosertib with the nucleoside analog cytarabine and provide mechanistic insights into the combinational activity, showing preferential engagement of apoptotic cell death over cell cycle arrest. Our findings strongly support in vivo interrogation of adavosertib with cytarabine in xenograft models of relapsed and high-risk ALL. Conclusions: Together, our data emphasize the functional importance of WEE1 in relapsed ALL cells and show WEE1 as a promising p53-independent therapeutic target for the improved treatment of high-risk and relapsed ALL.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bell HL, Blair HJ, Singh M, Moorman AV, Heidenreich O, van Delft FW, Lunec J, Irving JAE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cancer Cell International

Year: 2023

Volume: 23

Online publication date: 15/09/2023

Acceptance date: 07/09/2023

Date deposited: 28/09/2023

ISSN (electronic): 1475-2867

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd


DOI: 10.1186/s12935-023-03057-8


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Funder referenceFunder name
Newcastle University John William Luccock and Ernest Jeffcock PhD studentship for medical research