Selective inhibition of the BD2 bromodomain of BET proteins in prostate cancer

Nature. 2020 Feb;578(7794):306-310. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-1930-8. Epub 2020 Jan 22.


Proteins of the bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) domain family are epigenetic readers that bind acetylated histones through their bromodomains to regulate gene transcription. Dual-bromodomain BET inhibitors (DbBi) that bind with similar affinities to the first (BD1) and second (BD2) bromodomains of BRD2, BRD3, BRD4 and BRDt have displayed modest clinical activity in monotherapy cancer trials. A reduced number of thrombocytes in the blood (thrombocytopenia) as well as symptoms of gastrointestinal toxicity are dose-limiting adverse events for some types of DbBi1-5. Given that similar haematological and gastrointestinal defects were observed after genetic silencing of Brd4 in mice6, the platelet and gastrointestinal toxicities may represent on-target activities associated with BET inhibition. The two individual bromodomains in BET family proteins may have distinct functions7-9 and different cellular phenotypes after pharmacological inhibition of one or both bromodomains have been reported10,11, suggesting that selectively targeting one of the bromodomains may result in a different efficacy and tolerability profile compared with DbBi. Available compounds that are selective to individual domains lack sufficient potency and the pharmacokinetics properties that are required for in vivo efficacy and tolerability assessment10-13. Here we carried out a medicinal chemistry campaign that led to the discovery of ABBV-744, a highly potent and selective inhibitor of the BD2 domain of BET family proteins with drug-like properties. In contrast to the broad range of cell growth inhibition induced by DbBi, the antiproliferative activity of ABBV-744 was largely, but not exclusively, restricted to cell lines of acute myeloid leukaemia and prostate cancer that expressed the full-length androgen receptor (AR). ABBV-744 retained robust activity in prostate cancer xenografts, and showed fewer platelet and gastrointestinal toxicities than the DbBi ABBV-07514. Analyses of RNA expression and chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by sequencing revealed that ABBV-744 displaced BRD4 from AR-containing super-enhancers and inhibited AR-dependent transcription, with less impact on global transcription compared with ABBV-075. These results underscore the potential value of selectively targeting the BD2 domain of BET family proteins for cancer therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / chemistry*
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / genetics
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Protein Domains / drug effects*
  • Pyridines / adverse effects
  • Pyridines / pharmacology*
  • Pyridines / toxicity
  • Pyrroles / adverse effects
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology*
  • Pyrroles / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • AR protein, human
  • BRD2 protein, human
  • BRD4 protein, human
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Pyridines
  • Pyrroles
  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Transcription Factors
  • ABBV-744