Tumors activate protein kinase R (PKR)-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK, also called EIF2AK3) in response to hypoxia and nutrient deprivation as a stress-mitigation strategy. Here, we tested the hypothesis that inhibiting PERK with HC-5404 enhances the antitumor efficacy of standard-of-care VEGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors (VEGFR-TKI).
HC-5404 was characterized as a potent and selective PERK inhibitor, with favorable in vivo properties. Multiple renal cell carcinoma (RCC) tumor models were then cotreated with both HC-5404 and VEGFR-TKI in vivo, measuring tumor volume across time and evaluating tumor response by protein analysis and IHC.
VEGFR-TKI including axitinib, cabozantinib, lenvatinib, and sunitinib induce PERK activation in 786-O RCC xenografts. Cotreatment with HC-5404 inhibited PERK in tumors and significantly increased antitumor effects of VEGFR-TKI across multiple RCC models, resulting in tumor stasis or regression. Analysis of tumor sections revealed that HC-5404 enhanced the antiangiogenic effects of axitinib and lenvatinib by inhibiting both new vasculature and mature tumor blood vessels. Xenografts that progress on axitinib monotherapy remain sensitive to the combination treatment, resulting in ∼20% tumor regression in the combination group. When tested across a panel of 18 RCC patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models, the combination induced greater antitumor effects relative to monotherapies. In this single animal study, nine out of 18 models responded with ≥50% tumor regression from baseline in the combination group.
By disrupting an adaptive stress response evoked by VEGFR-TKI, HC-5404 presents a clinical opportunity to improve the antitumor effects of well-established standard-of-care therapies in RCC.