Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors Play an Antiviral Action in Patients Affected by Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Possible Model Supporting Their Use in the Fight Against SARS-CoV-2.
SARS-CoV-2 is the viral agent responsible for the pandemic that in the first months of 2020 caused about 400,000 deaths. Among compounds proposed to fight the SARS-CoV-2-related disease (COVID-19), tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), already effective in Philadelphia-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL) and chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), have been proposed on the basis of their antiviral action already demonstrated against SARS-CoV-1. Very few cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Ph+ ALL and in CML Italian cohorts; authors suggested that this low rate of infections might depend on the use of TKIs, but the biological causes of this phenomenon remain unknown. In this study, the CML model was used to test if TKIs would sustain or not the viral replication and if they could damage patient immunity. Firstly, the infection and replication rate of torquetenovirus (TTV), whose load is inversely proportional to the host immunological control, have been measured in CML patients receiving nilotinib. A very low percentage of subjects were infected at baseline, and TTV did not replicate or at least showed a low replication rate during the follow-up, with a mean load comparable to the measured one in healthy subjects. Then, after gene expression profiling experiments, we found that several antiviral genes, such as CD28 and IFN gamma, were upregulated, while genes with proviral action, such as ARG-1, CEACAM1, and FUT4, were less expressed during treatment with imatinib, thus demonstrating that TKIs are not detrimental from the immunological point of view. To sum up, our data could offer some biological explanations to the low COVID-19 occurrence in Ph+ ALL and CML patients and sustain the use of TKIs in COVID-19, as already proposed by several international ongoing studies.