Neuroblastoma tumors frequently overexpress the anti-apoptotic protein B-cell lymphoma/leukemia 2 (BCL-2). We previously showed that treating BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cells with the BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax results in apoptosis, but unfortunately partial therapy resistance is observed. The current study describes the identification of drugs capable of resensitizing venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cells to venetoclax. To examine these effects, venetoclax resistance was induced in BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cell lines KCNR and SJNB12 by continuous exposure to high venetoclax concentrations. Non-resistant and venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cell lines were exposed to a 209-compound library in the absence and presence of venetoclax to identify compounds that were more effective in the venetoclax-resistant cell lines under venetoclax pressure. Top hits were further validated in combination with venetoclax using BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma model systems. Overall, high-throughput drug screening identified the MDM2 inhibitor idasanutlin as a promising resensitizing agent for venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cell lines. Idasanutlin treatment induced BAX-mediated apoptosis in venetoclax-resistant neuroblastoma cells in the presence of venetoclax, whereas it caused p21-mediated growth arrest in control cells. In vivo combination treatment showed tumor regression and superior efficacy over single-agent therapies in a BCL-2-dependent neuroblastoma cell line xenograft and a patient-derived xenograft. However, xenografts less dependent on BCL-2 were not sensitive to venetoclax-idasanutlin combination therapy. This study demonstrates that idasanutlin can overcome resistance to the BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax in preclinical neuroblastoma model systems, which supports clinical development of a treatment strategy combining the two therapies.
©2021 American Association for Cancer Research.