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Inhibition of PI3K by copanlisib exerts potent antitumor effects on Merkel cell carcinoma cell lines and mouse xenografts.


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a highly aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer with steadily increasing incidence and poor prognosis. Despite recent success with immunotherapy, 50% of patients still succumb to their diseases. To date, there is no Food and Drug Administration-approved targeted therapy for advanced MCC. Aberrant activation of phosphatidylinositide-3-kinase (PI3K)/AKT/mTOR pathway is frequently detected in MCC, making it an attractive therapeutic target. We previously found PI3K pathway activation in human MCC cell lines and tumors and demonstrated complete clinical response in a Stage IV MCC patient treated with PI3K inhibitor idelalisib. Here, we found that both PI3K-α and -δ isoforms are abundantly expressed in our MCC cell lines and clinical samples; we therefore examined antitumor efficacy across a panel of five PI3K inhibitors with distinctive isoform-specificities, including idelalisib (PI3K-δ), copanlisib (PI3K-α/δ), duvelisib (PI3K-γ/δ), alpelisib (PI3K-α), and AZD8186 (PI3K-β/δ). Of these, copanlisib exerts the most potent antitumor effects, markedly inhibiting cell proliferation, survival, and tumor growth by suppressing PI3K/mTOR/Akt activities in mouse models generated from MCC cell xenografts and patient-derived tumor xenografts. These results provide compelling preclinical evidence for application of copanlisib in advanced MCC with aberrant PI3K activation for which immunotherapy is insufficient, or patients who are unsuitable for immunotherapy.

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