In chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia (CP-CML) patients treated with frontline imatinib, failure to achieve early molecular response (EMR; EMR failure: BCR-ABL1 .10% on the international scale at 3 months) is predictive of inferior outcomes. Identifying patients at high-risk of EMR failure at diagnosis provides an opportunity to intensify frontline therapy and potentially avoid EMR failure. We studied blood samples from 96 CP-CML patients at diagnosis and identified 365 genes that were aberrantly expressed in 13 patients who subsequently failed to achieve EMR, with a gene signature significantly enriched for stem cell phenotype (eg, Myc, b-catenin, Hoxa9/Meis1), cell cycle, and reduced immune response pathways. We selected a 17-gene panel to predict EMR failure and validated this signature on an independent patient cohort. Patients classified as high risk with our gene expression signature (HR-GES) exhibited significantly higher rates of EMR failure compared with low-risk (LR-GES) patients (78% vs 5%; P, .0001), with an overall accuracy of 93%. Furthermore, HR-GES patients who received frontline nilotinib had a relatively low rate of EMR failure (10%). However, HR-GES patients still had inferior deep molecular response achievement rate by 24 months compared with LR-GES patients. This novel multigene signature may be useful for selecting patients at high risk of EMR failure on standard therapy who may benefit from trials of more potent kinase inhibitors or other experimental approaches.
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