Current and emerging therapies for patients with acute myeloid leukemia: a focus on MCL-1 and the CDK9 pathway

Am J Manag Care. 2018 Aug;24(16 Suppl):S356-S365.


Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an aggressive hematologic malignancy that largely impacts the elderly population. Not all AML patients are candidates for the mainstay induction and consolidation treatment options. In addition, despite available therapies, most patients will eventually relapse on, or be refractory to, standard induction therapy, with limited subsequent choices and poor prognosis. Recently, several new and emerging therapies, with a variety of mechanisms of action, have broadened the treatment landscape in newly diagnosed and relapsed/refractory (R/R) AML, providing patients and healthcare providers with more options and several targeted treatment approaches. Preclinical data indicate that the anti-apoptotic protein myeloid cell leukemia-1 (MCL-1) is important to AML cell survival. Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9), a transcriptional activator necessary for the expression of MCL-1, represents a promising target for future AML therapies. A number of CDK9 inhibitors, as well as several direct MCL-1 inhibitors, are currently in clinical or preclinical development. The CDK9 inhibitors alvocidib, atuveciclib, and TG02 have completed phase 1/2 clinical trials, with results available for the alvocidib trial showing improved complete remission rates (70% vs 46%; P = .003) for alvocidib in combination with cytarabine and mitoxantrone, versus cytarabine/daunorubicin, in patients with newly diagnosed AML. In addition, several phase 1 clinical trials with CDK9 inhibitors are currently recruiting for treatment of advanced AML. A phase 1b study is also ongoing to investigate alvocidib in combination with B-cell lymphoma-2 inhibitor venetoclax for R/R AML. Although further research is needed, CDK9 inhibitors represent a promising new approach for the treatment of AML.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / therapeutic use
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myelomonocytic, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Pyridinium Compounds / therapeutic use
  • Sulfonamides / therapeutic use
  • Triazines / therapeutic use


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Pyridinium Compounds
  • Sulfonamides
  • Triazines
  • atuveciclib
  • dinaciclib
  • CDK9 protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9