Simvastatin enhances the efficacy of nilotinib in chronic myeloid leukaemia by post-translational modification and drug transporter modulation

Kartini Asari, Wen Tian Sun, Ze Hui Kok, Yi Hui Lam, Bee Ling Ng, Verity Saunders, Deborah L. White, Charles Chuah, Wei Xiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The resistance of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) remains a significant clinical problem. Targeting alternative pathways, such as protein prenylation, is known to be effective in overcoming resistance. Simvastatin inhibits 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase (a key enzyme in isoprenoid-regulation), thereby inhibiting prenylation. We demonstrate that simvastatin alone effectively inhibits proliferation in a panel of TKI-resistant CML cell lines, regardless of mechanism of resistance. We further show that the combination of nilotinib and simvastatin synergistically kills CML cells via an increase in apoptosis and decrease in prosurvival proteins and cellular proliferation. Mechanistically, simvastatin inhibits protein prenylation as shown by increased levels of unprenylated Ras and rescue experiments with mevalonate resulted in abrogation of synergism. The combination also leads to an increase in the intracellular uptake and retention of radio-labelled nilotinib, which further enhances the inhibition of Bcr-Abl kinase activity. In primary CML samples, this combination inhibits clonogenicity in both imatinib-naive and resistant cells. Such combinatorial effects provide the basis for utilising these Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs as a potential clinical approach in overcoming resistance and improving CML treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-536
Number of pages11
JournalAnti-Cancer Drugs
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1 Jun 2021


  • chronic myeloid leukaemia
  • drug transporters
  • nilotinib
  • prenylation
  • simvastatin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Cancer Research

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