Transcriptional dysregulation is a hallmark of cancer and can be an essential driver of cancer initiation and progression. Loss of transcriptional control can cause cancer cells to become dependent on certain regulators of gene expression. Bromodomain and extraterminal domain (BET) proteins are epigenetic readers that regulate the expression of multiple genes involved in carcinogenesis. BET inhibitors (BETis) disrupt BET protein binding to acetylated lysine residues of chromatin and suppress the transcription of various genes, including oncogenic transcription factors. Phase I and II clinical trials demonstrated BETis’ potential as anticancer drugs against solid tumours and haematological malignancies; however, their clinical success was limited as monotherapies. Emerging treatment-associated toxicities, drug resistance and a lack of predictive biomarkers limited BETis’ clinical progress. The preclinical evaluation demonstrated that BETis synergised with different classes of compounds, including DNA repair inhibitors, thus supporting further clinical development of BETis. The combination of BET and PARP inhibitors triggered synthetic lethality in cells with proficient homologous recombination. Mechanistic studies revealed that BETis targeted multiple essential homologous recombination pathway proteins, including RAD51, BRCA1 and CtIP. The exact mechanism of BETis’ anticancer action remains poorly understood; nevertheless, these agents provide a novel approach to epigenome and transcriptome anticancer therapy.
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