Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a transcription factor that regulates the activity of multiple innate and adaptive immune cells subsequent to binding to numerous endogenous and exogenous ligands. For example, AHR is activated by the metabolite kynurenine, which is secreted into the tumor microenvironment by cancer cells leading to broad immunosuppression. Therefore, AHR inhibition provides a novel and ideal approach to stimulate immune-mediated recognition and subsequent eradication of tumor cells. We report here the discovery and characterization of IK-175, a novel, potent and selective AHR antagonist with favorable ADME and pharmacokinetic profiles in preclinical species. IK-175 inhibits AHR activity in experimental systems derived from multiple species including mouse, rat, monkey, and humans. In human primary immune cells, IK-175 decreased AHR target gene expression and anti-inflammatory cytokine release and increased proinflammatory cytokine release. Moreover, IK-175 led to a decrease in suppressive IL17A, IL-22+ expressing T cells in a Th17 differentiation assay. IK-175 dose dependently blocks ligand-stimulated AHR activation of Cyp1a1 transcription in mouse liver and spleen, demonstrating on-target in vivo activity. IK-175 increases proinflammatory phenotype of the tumor microenvironment in mouse syngeneic tumors and in adjacent tumor-draining lymph nodes. As a monotherapy and combined with an anti-PD-1 antibody, IK-175 demonstrates antitumor activity in syngeneic mouse models of colorectal cancer and melanoma. IK-175 also demonstrates antitumor activity combined with liposomal doxorubicin in syngeneic mouse tumors. These studies provide rationale for targeting AHR in patients with cancer. IK-175 is being evaluated in a phase I clinical trial in patients with advanced solid tumors.

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