Background: CXCL12 is a negative prognostic factor for head & neck (HNSCC) and pancreatic (PDCA) cancers, among others. Its receptor, CXCR4, is a negative prognostic factor in lymphoma/leukemia. CXCR4 signals in part through RAS species, and the expression of CXCL12 and CXCR4 appears to be itself regulated by farnesylated proteins. We provide evidence that targeting the CXCL12/CXCR4 pathway with the farnesyltransferase inhibitor tipifarnib translates to long term clinical benefit.

Methods: Next generation sequencing and analyses of gene expression were conducted in tumor samples from squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients treated in tipifarnib trials (studies KO-TIP-001, KO-TIP-002, CTEP20), and complemented with analyses of related tumor gene expression databases in TCGA and GEO.

Results: Activating HRAS mutations in HNSCC and KRAS mutations in PDCA were mutually exclusive with CXCL12 expression, consistent with a role for RAS downstream from CXCR4. Contrary to KRAS and NRAS, HRAS is exclusively farnesylated, and treatment with tipifarnib in patients (pts) with advanced HNSCC tumors with a HRAS mutation variant allele frequency (VAF) >20% resulted in 8 partial responses (PR) in 14 pts. Two complete responses (CR), 3 PRs and 4 disease stabilizations (90% clinical benefit) were observed in 10 pts with relapsed/refractory peripheral T cell lymphoma overexpressing CXCL12. Decreases in plasma CXCL12 levels during treatment were observed. Seven CRs were observed in 11 elderly/unfit AML pts overexpressing CXCL12 in bone marrow (NRAS wt or unknown). Ex vivo treatment of bone marrow stromal cell cultures with tipifarnib decreased secretion of CXCL12. Finally, based on the reported relationship between CXCL12 expression and the suppression of pain in PDCA, we conducted a retrospective analysis of a phase 3 study of gemcitabine plus tipifarnib (GT) in advanced PDCA. Notably, absence of abdominal pain at study entry was associated with higher median survival in the GT arm (no pain, pain): 10.2 vs 5.9 months, HR=0.52, p<0.0001, whereas no significant effect was observed in the control arm: 6.1 vs 6.1 months. PDCA with <7% VAF of KRAS mutation (~30% PDCA pts) overexpressed CXCL12.

Conclusions: The mechanism of action of tipifarnib appears to involve targeting the CXCL12/CXCR4 pathway and demonstrates a crucial association with the tumor microenvironment and objective clinical responses.

Citation Format: Antonio Gualberto, Catherine Scholz, Vishnu Mishra, Matthew R. Janes, Linda Kessler, Eric Van Cutsem, Alan L. Ho, Thomas Witzig. Mechanism of action of the farnesyltransferase inhibitor, tipifarnib, and its clinical applications [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2019; 2019 Mar 29-Apr 3; Atlanta, GA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2019;79(13 Suppl):Abstract nr CT191.