Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) frequently inactivate p53, increasing their aggressiveness and therapy resistance. We identified an unexpected protein vulnerability in p53-inactivated TNBC and designed a new PROteolysis TArgeting Chimera (PROTAC) to target it. Our PROTAC selectively targets MDM2 for proteasome-mediated degradation with high-affinity binding and VHL recruitment. MDM2 loss in p53 mutant/deleted TNBC cells in two-dimensional/three-dimensional culture and TNBC patient explants, including relapsed tumors, causes apoptosis while sparing normal cells. Our MDM2-PROTAC is stable in vivo, and treatment of TNBC xenograft-bearing mice demonstrates tumor on-target efficacy with no toxicity to normal cells, significantly extending survival. Transcriptomic analyses revealed upregulation of p53 family target genes. Investigations showed activation and a required role for TAp73 to mediate MDM2-PROTAC–induced apoptosis. Our data, challenging the current MDM2/p53 paradigm, show MDM2 is required for p53-inactivated TNBC cell survival, and PROTAC-targeted MDM2 degradation is an innovative potential therapeutic strategy for TNBC and superior to existing MDM2 inhibitors.
p53-inactivated TNBC is an aggressive, therapy-resistant, and lethal breast cancer subtype. We designed a new compound targeting an unexpected vulnerability we identified in TNBC. Our MDM2-targeted degrader kills p53-inactivated TNBC cells, highlighting the requirement for MDM2 in TNBC cell survival and as a new therapeutic target for this disease.