Lung cancer is among the common and deadly cancers. Although the treatment options for late-stage cancer patients have continued to increase in numbers, the overall survival rates for these patients have not shown significant improvement. This highlights the need for new targets and drugs to more effectively treat lung cancer patients. In this study, we characterize the MCL-1 inhibitor maritoclax alone or in combination with a BCL-2/xL inhibitor in a panel of lung cancer cell lines. BCL-2 family proteins, phosphorylated proteins, and apoptosis were monitored following the treatments. We found that maritoclax was effective at inhibiting growth in these lung cancer cells. We also establish that cell lines with EGFR mutations were most sensitive to the combined inhibition of MCL-1 and BCL-2/xL. In addition, a high level of phosphorylated AKT (S473) was identified as a marker for sensitivity to the combination treatment. This work has defined EGFR mutations and AKT phosphorylation as markers for sensitivity to combined MCL-1 and BCL-2/xL targeted therapy and establishes a rationale to explore multiple BCL-2 family members in patients who are refractory to EGFR inhibitor treatment. Our data support the design of a clinical trial that aims to employ inhibitors of the BCL-2 family of proteins in lung cancer patients.
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