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Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) is a nonreceptor kinase in the B cell receptor (BCR) signaling cascade critical for B cell survival. As such, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and other B cell cancers are sensitive to inhibition of BTK. Covalent and noncovalent inhibitors of BTK have revolutionized the treatment of these cancers. Therefore, understanding mechanisms by which acquired mutation in BTK confer drug resistance and developing new therapies to overcome resistance are critically important.


We recently discovered BTK mutations that confer resistance across covalent and noncovalent BTK inhibitors. In this study, we found that a group of these mutants impair BTK kinase activity despite still enabling downstream BCR signaling. We therefore set out to understand the nonenzymatic functions of BTK and explored targeted protein degradation to overcome the oncogenic scaffold function of mutant BTK. This effort included evaluation of BTK degradation in patients with CLL treated in a phase 1 clinical trial of NX-2127, a first-in-class BTK degrader (NCT04830137).


BTK enzymatic activity assays revealed that drug resistance mutations in BTK fall into two distinct groups: kinase proficient and kinase impaired. Immunoprecipitation mass spectrometry of kinase-impaired BTK L528W (Leu528→Trp) revealed a scaffold function of BTK with downstream signaling and survival dependent on surrogate kinases that bind to kinase-impaired BTK proteoforms. To target the nonenzymatic functions of BTK, we developed NX-2127, a heterobifunctional molecule that engages the ubiquitin-proteasome system to simultaneously bind both BTK and the cereblon E3 ubiquitin ligase complex, inducing polyubiquitination and proteasome-dependent degradation of IKZF1/3 and all recurrent drug-resistant forms of mutant BTK. The activity of NX-2127 on BTK degradation was further demonstrated in patients with CLL treated in a phase 1 clinical trial of NX-2127, where >80% BTK degradation was achieved and clinical responses were also seen in 79% of evaluable patients, independent of mutant BTK genotypes.


We identified that BTK inhibitor resistance mutations fall into two distinct functional categories. Kinase-impaired BTK mutants disable BTK kinase activity while promoting physical interactions with other kinases to sustain downstream BCR signaling. This scaffold function of BTK was disrupted by NX-2127, a potent BTK degrader, which showed promising responses for patients with relapsed and refractory CLL, independently of mutant BTK functional category.


Humans, Agammaglobulinaemia Tyrosine Kinase, Ikaros Transcription Factor, Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell, Mutation, Phosphorylation, Protein Kinase Inhibitors, Signal Transduction, Proteolysis, Drug Resistance, Neoplasm

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