Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is among the deadliest cancers, and overall survival rates have barely improved over the past five decades. The antimetabolite gemcitabine remains part of the standard of care but shows very limited antitumor efficacy. Ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related protein (ATR), the apical kinase of the intra-S-phase DNA damage response, plays a central role in safeguarding cells from replication stress and can therefore limit the efficacy of antimetabolite drug therapies. We investigated the ability of the ATR inhibitor, AZD6738, to prevent the gemcitabine-induced intra-S-phase checkpoint activation and evaluated the antitumor potential of this combination in vitro and in vivo In PDAC cell lines, AZD6738 inhibited gemcitabine-induced Chk1 activation, prevented cell-cycle arrest, and restrained RRM2 accumulation, leading to the strong induction of replication stress markers only with the combination. Moreover, synergistic growth inhibition was identified in a panel of 5 mouse and 7 human PDAC cell lines using both Bliss Independence and Loewe models. In clonogenic assays, the combination abrogated survival at concentrations for which single agents had minor effects. In vivo, AZD6738 in combination with gemcitabine was well tolerated and induced tumor regression in a subcutaneous allograft model of a KrasG12D; Trp53R172H; Pdx-Cre (KPC) mouse cancer cell line, significantly extending survival. Remarkably, the combination also induced regression of a subgroup of KPC autochthonous tumors, which generally do not respond well to conventional chemotherapy. Altogether, our data suggest that AZD6738 in combination with gemcitabine merits evaluation in a clinical trial in patients with PDAC. Mol Cancer Ther; 17(8); 1670-82. ©2018 AACR.
©2018 American Association for Cancer Research.