Although effective in BRAF V600 mutant melanoma, Type 1.5 RAF inhibitors such as vemurafinib and dabrafenib have not proven to be successful in KRAS mutant cancers, neither as single agent nor in combination with MEK inhibitors. Through large-scale cellular compound combination screening we found that Type II RAF inhibitors such as AZ-628 do show synergistic activity with MEK inhibitors in multiple KRAS mutant indications, including NSCLC, colorectal cancer and ovarian cancer. The combination of Type II RAF inhibitors and MEK inhibitors demonstrates robust and durable abrogation of MAPK signaling both on canonical markers of MAPK activity such as pERK and pRSC as well as transcriptional output. We also observe synergistic in vivo tumor growth inhibition in two independent models of KRAS mutant cancer by this combination treatment. We found that treatment with MEK inhibitors alone drives the increase of active RAS-GTP levels and induces CRAF:BRAF hetero-dimerization. These induced dimers are active and able to phosphorylate MEK in vitro. This increased dimerization renders cells sensitive to Type 2 RAF inhibitors. We find that this effect is not limited to KRAS mutant cells, as a subset of KRAS wild-type cells show increased RAS-GTP levels upon MEK inhibitor treatment. These cells also show synergistic sensitivity to Type 2 RAF inhibition. Additionally, we observed significantly higher synergy and higher RAS-GTP levels in KRAS G13D mutant cells, which have intrinsically high GDP exchange and low intrinsic GTP hydrolysis. Finally, we show that GDC-0941 and GDC-0032, two broad PI3K inhibitors, also induce RAS-GTP levels in cells independent of PIK3CA or KRAS mutation status. We subsequently observed a synergistic sensitivity to Type 2 RAF inhibitors in these PI3K inhibitor-treated cells. Overall, we demonstrate that pharmacologic inhibition of MEK or PI3K increases RAS-GTP levels and drives increased CRAF:BRAF hetero-dimerization. This in turn sensitizes cells to Type 2 RAF inhibition, leading to a synergistic drug effect. Combination of these inhibitors may be a viable therapeutic approach in KRAS mutant cancer, and may be especially effective in KRAS G13D-carrying tumors.
Citation Format: Christiaan N. Klijn, Ivana Yen, Frances Shanahan, Mark Merchant, Christine Orr, Thomas Hunsaker, Matthew Durk, Hank La, Xiaoling Zhang, Scott Martin, Eva Lin, John Chan, Yihong Yu, Dhara Amin, Amy Gustafson, Scott Foster, Joachim Rudolph, Shiva Malek. Pharmacologically induced RAS-GTP levels and CRAF-BRAF hetero-dimerization drive sensitization to Type II pan-RAF inhibitors in KRAS mutant cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2018; 2018 Apr 14-18; Chicago, IL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2018;78(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 874.