ATR inhibition augments the efficacy of lurbinectedin in small-cell lung cancer

EMBO Mol Med. 2023 Aug 7;15(8):e17313. doi: 10.15252/emmm.202217313. Epub 2023 Jul 25.


Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is the most lethal type of lung cancer. Specifically, MYC-driven non-neuroendocrine SCLC is particularly resistant to standard therapies. Lurbinectedin was recently approved for the treatment of relapsed SCLC, but combinatorial approaches are needed to increase the depth and duration of responses to lurbinectedin. Using high-throughput screens, we found inhibitors of ataxia telangiectasia mutated and rad3 related (ATR) as the most effective agents for augmenting lurbinectedin efficacy. First-in-class ATR inhibitor berzosertib synergized with lurbinectedin in multiple SCLC cell lines, organoid, and in vivo models. Mechanistically, ATR inhibition abrogated S-phase arrest induced by lurbinectedin and forced cell cycle progression causing mitotic catastrophe and cell death. High CDKN1A/p21 expression was associated with decreased synergy due to G1 arrest, while increased levels of ERCC5/XPG were predictive of increased combination efficacy. Importantly, MYC-driven non-neuroendocrine tumors which are resistant to first-line therapies show reduced CDKN1A/p21 expression and increased ERCC5/XPG indicating they are primed for response to lurbinectedin-berzosertib combination. The combination is being assessed in a clinical trial NCT04802174.

Keywords: ATR inhibitor; SCLC; biomarker; neuroendocrine; synergy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / drug therapy


  • PM 01183
  • Ataxia Telangiectasia Mutated Proteins
  • ATR protein, human

Associated data