The abundance of genetic abnormalities and phenotypic heterogeneities in AML pose significant challenges to developing improved treatments. Here we demonstrated that a key GAS6/AXL axis is highly activated in AML patient cells, particularly in stem/progenitor cells. We developed a potent, selective AXL inhibitor that has favorable pharmaceutical properties and efficacy against preclinical patient-derived xenotransplantation (PDX) models of AML. Importantly, inhibition of AXL sensitized AML stem/progenitor cells to venetoclax treatment, with strong synergistic effects in vitro and in PDX models. Mechanistically, single-cell RNA-sequencing and functional validation studies uncovered that AXL inhibition or in combination with venetoclax potentially targets intrinsic metabolic vulnerabilities of AML stem/progenitor cells, which shows a distinct transcriptomic profile and inhibits mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation. Inhibition of AXL or BCL-2 also differentially targets key signaling proteins to synergize in leukemic cell killing. These findings have direct translational impact on the treatment of AML and other cancers with high AXL activity.
Xiaojia Niu, Katharina Rothe, Min Chen, Sarah Grasedieck, Rick Li, Sung-Eun Nam, Xiuyan Zhang, German Novakovskiy, Ye-Hyeon Ahn, Irina A Maksakova, Shenshen Lai, Hong Zhang, Jun Yan, Hong Liu, Yun Zhao, Depei Wu, Yubin Ge, Wyeth Wasserman, Arefeh Rouhi, Florian Christoph Kuchenbauer, Calvin K Yip, Zaihui Zhang, Xiaoyan Jiang