Michael Engel, M.D., Ph.D.

Funded by the Dick Vitale Gala

Acute leukemias (acute myeloid leukemia—AML and acute lymphoid leukemia—ALL) are lifethreatening
cancers of the blood responsible for 40% of all childhood cancer deaths. For those who survive, life-altering side effects from conventional therapy are common. Despite progressively improved survival, these circumstances are far from ideal. To achieve better outcomes with fewer side effects, we need new treatments that target mechanisms of leukemia cell survival. By focusing on these adaptations we have discovered an “Achilles heel” in leukemia cell survival. We discovered that leukemia cells depend upon a partnership between two proteins, Growth Factor Independence-1 (GFI1) and Lysine Specific Demethylase-1 (LSD1) in order to survive. The GFI1—LSD1 complex promotes leukemia cell survival by blocking genes that cause cell death. Leukemia cells cannot survive without GFI1, even if LSD1 is present, nor can they survive without LSD1 even if GFI1 is present. This suggests that inhibitors of the GFI1—LSD1 axis can trigger leukemia cell death. To this end, we developed a new drug (SP-2577) that selectively inhibits LSD1, overriding pro-survival effects of the GFI1—LSD1 axis and triggering death of AML and ALL cells. Notably, SP-2577 causes death of leukemia cells that are resistant to other drugs currently used to treat leukemia, and thus may provide a treatment for patients with relapsed disease. Our proposal tests the addition of SP-2577 to established treatment regimens for patients with relapsed AML or ALL and validates markers of SP-2577 “on target” activity for future multi-institutional clinical trials.

Location: University of Virginia Cancer Center -
Proposal: Pre-clinical and Phase 1 clinical testing of the LSD1 inhibitor, SP-2577 in relapsed pediatric leukemia’s
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