Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) is a fatal subtype of non–Hodgkin lymphoma. SOX11 transcription factor is overexpressed in the majority of nodal MCL. We have previously reported that B cell–specific overexpression of SOX11 promotes MCL pathogenesis via critically increasing BCR signaling in vivo. SOX11 is an attractive target for MCL therapy; however, no small-molecule inhibitor of SOX11 has been identified to date. Although transcription factors are generally considered undruggable, the ability of SOX11 to bind to the minor groove of DNA led us to hypothesize that there may exist cavities at the protein–DNA interface that are amenable to targeting by small molecules.
Using a combination of in silico predictions and experimental validations, we report here the discovery of three structurally related compounds (SOX11i) that bind SOX11, perturb its interaction with DNA, and effect SOX11-specific anti-MCL cytotoxicity.
We find mechanistic validation of on-target activity of these SOX11i in the inhibition of BCR signaling and the transcriptional modulation of SOX11 target genes, specifically, in SOX11-expressing MCL cells. One of the three SOX11i exhibits relatively superior in vitro activity and displays cytotoxic synergy with ibrutinib in SOX11-expressing MCL cells. Importantly, this SOX11i induces cytotoxicity specifically in SOX11-positive ibrutinib-resistant MCL patient samples and inhibits Bruton tyrosine kinase phosphorylation in a xenograft mouse model derived from one of these subjects.
Taken together, our results provide a foundation for therapeutically targeting SOX11 in MCL by a novel class of small molecules.