Background: Complement activation after binding of an IgG autoantibody to aquaporin 4 (AQP4) is thought to be a major determinant of CNS inflammation and astrocytic injury in neuromyelitis optica. The aim of this study was to investigate the use of eculizumab--a therapeutic monoclonal IgG that neutralises the complement protein C5--in neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders.
Methods: Between Oct 20, 2009, and Nov 3, 2010, we recruited patients from two US centres into an open-label trial. Patients were AQP4-IgG-seropositive, aged at least 18 years, had a neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, and had at least two attacks in the preceding 6 months or three in the previous 12 months. Patients received meningococcal vaccine at a screening visit and 2 weeks later began eculizumab treatment. They received 600 mg intravenous eculizumab weekly for 4 weeks, 900 mg in the fifth week, and then 900 mg every 2 weeks for 48 weeks. The coprimary endpoints were efficacy (measured by number of attacks [new worsening of neurological function lasting for more than 24 h and not attributable to an identifiable cause]) and safety. Secondary endpoints were disability (measured by expanded disability status scale), ambulation (Hauser score), and visual acuity. At follow-up visits (after 6 weeks and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months of treatment; and 3 and 12 months after discontinuation), complete neurological examination was undertaken and an adverse event questionnaire completed. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00904826.
Findings: We enrolled 14 patients, all of whom were women. After 12 months of eculizumab treatment, 12 patients were relapse free; two had had possible attacks. The median number of attacks per year fell from three before treatment (range two to four) to zero (zero to one) during treatment (p<0·0001). No patient had worsened disability by any outcome measure. Median score on the expanded disability status scale improved from 4·3 (range 1·0-8·0) before treatment to 3·5 (0-8·0) during treatment (p=0·0078). Two patients improved by two points and three improved by one point on the Hauser score; no change was recorded for the other patients. Visual acuity had improved in at least one eye by one point in four patients, and by two points in one patient; no change was recorded for other patients. One patient had meningococcal sepsis and sterile meningitis about 2 months after the first eculizumab infusion, but resumed treatment after full recovery. No other drug-related serious adverse events occurred. Eight attacks in five patients were reported within 12 months of eculizumab withdrawal.
Interpretation: Eculizumab seems to be well tolerated, significantly reduce attack frequency, and stabilise or improve neurological disability measures in patients with aggressive neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders. The apparent effects of eculizumab deserve further investigation in larger, randomised controlled studies.
Funding: Alexion Pharmaceuticals.
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