Clinical trials of imetelstat therapy have indicated that this telomerase inhibitor might have disease-modifying effects in a subset of patients with myelofibrosis (MF). The mechanism by which imetelstat induces such clinical responses has not been clearly elucidated. Using in vitro hematopoietic progenitor cell (HPC) assays and in vivo hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) assays, we examined the effects of imetelstat on primary normal and MF HSCs/HPCs. Treatment of CD34+ cells with imetelstat reduced the numbers of MF but not cord blood HPCs (colony-forming unit-granulocyte/macrophage, burst-forming unit-erythroid, and colony-forming unit-granulocyte/erythroid/macrophage/megakaryocyte) as well as MF but not normal CD34+ALDH+ cells irrespective of the patient's mutational status. Moreover, imetelstat treatment resulted in depletion of mutated HPCs from JAK2V617F+ MF patients. Furthermore, treatment of immunodeficient mice that had been previously transplanted with MF splenic CD34+ cells with imetelstat at a dose of 15 mg/kg, 3 times per week for 4 weeks had a limited effect on the degree of chimerism achieved by normal severe combined immunodeficiency repopulating cells but resulted in a significant reduction in the degree of human MF cell chimerism as well as the proportion of mutated donor cells. These effects were sustained for at least 3 months after drug treatment was discontinued. These actions of imetelstat on MF HSCs/HPCs were associated with inhibition of telomerase activity and the induction of apoptosis. Our findings indicate that the effects of imetelstat therapy observed in MF patients are likely attributable to the greater sensitivity of imetelstat against MF as compared with normal HSCs/HPCs as well as the intensity of the imetelstat dose schedule.
© 2018 by The American Society of Hematology.