The selective allosteric ABL1 inhibitor ABL001 (asciminib) represents a new inhibitory mechanism for BCR-ABL1-driven malignancies, and its efficacy and evolving mechanisms of resistance do not overlap with those of other BCR-ABL1 kinase inhibitors.
Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) is driven by the activity of the BCR-ABL1 fusion oncoprotein. ABL1 kinase inhibitors have improved the clinical outcomes for patients with CML, with over 80% of patients treated with imatinib surviving for more than 10 years1. Second-generation ABL1 kinase inhibitors induce more potent molecular responses in both previously untreated and imatinib-resistant patients with CML2. Studies in patients with chronic-phase CML have shown that around 50% of patients who achieve and maintain undetectable BCR-ABL1 transcript levels for at least 2 years remain disease-free after the withdrawal of treatment3,4. Here we characterize ABL001 (asciminib), a potent and selective allosteric ABL1 inhibitor that is undergoing clinical development testing in patients with CML and Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. In contrast to catalytic-site ABL1 kinase inhibitors, ABL001 binds to the myristoyl pocket of ABL1 and induces the formation of an inactive kinase conformation. ABL001 and second-generation catalytic inhibitors have similar cellular potencies but distinct patterns of resistance mutations, with genetic barcoding studies revealing pre-existing clonal populations with no shared resistance between ABL001 and the catalytic inhibitor nilotinib. Consistent with this profile, acquired resistance was observed with single-agent therapy in mice; however, the combination of ABL001 and nilotinib led to complete disease control and eradicated CML xenograft tumours without recurrence after the cessation of treatment.