Mediator-associated kinases CDK8/19 are context-dependent drivers or suppressors of tumorigenesis. Their inhibition is predicted to have pleiotropic effects, but it is unclear whether this will impact on the clinical utility of CDK8/19 inhibitors. We discovered two series of potent chemical probes with high selectivity for CDK8/19. Despite pharmacodynamic evidence for robust on-target activity, the compounds exhibited modest, though significant, efficacy against human tumor lines and patient-derived xenografts. Altered gene expression was consistent with CDK8/19 inhibition, including profiles associated with super-enhancers, immune and inflammatory responses and stem cell function. In a mouse model expressing oncogenic beta-catenin, treatment shifted cells within hyperplastic intestinal crypts from a stem cell to a transit amplifying phenotype. In two species, neither probe was tolerated at therapeutically-relevant exposures. The complex nature of the toxicity observed with two structurally-differentiated chemical series is consistent with on-target effects posing significant challenges to the clinical development of CDK8/19 inhibitors.
Keywords: CDK8; Mediator complex; Wnt; cancer biology; human; human biology; inhibitor; medicine; super-enhancer.