Senolytics, drugs that kill senescent cells, have been proposed to improve the response to pro-senescence cancer therapies; however, this remains challenging due to a lack of broadly acting senolytic drugs. Using CRISPR/Cas9-based genetic screens in different senescent cancer cell models, we identify loss of the death receptor inhibitor cFLIP as a common vulnerability of senescent cancer cells. Senescent cells are primed for apoptotic death by NF-κB-mediated upregulation of death receptor 5 (DR5) and its ligand TRAIL, but are protected from death by increased cFLIP expression. Activation of DR5 signaling by agonistic antibody, which can be enhanced further by suppression of cFLIP by BRD2 inhibition, leads to efficient killing of a variety of senescent cancer cells. Moreover, senescent cells sensitize adjacent non-senescent cells to killing by DR5 agonist through a bystander effect mediated by secretion of cytokines. We validate this 'one-two punch' cancer therapy by combining pro-senescence therapy with DR5 activation in different animal models.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature America, Inc.