Background: Nusinersen is a 2'-O-methoxyethyl phosphorothioate-modified antisense drug being developed to treat spinal muscular atrophy. Nusinersen is specifically designed to alter splicing of SMN2 pre-mRNA and thus increase the amount of functional survival motor neuron (SMN) protein that is deficient in patients with spinal muscular atrophy.
Methods: This open-label, phase 2, escalating dose clinical study assessed the safety and tolerability, pharmacokinetics, and clinical efficacy of multiple intrathecal doses of nusinersen (6 mg and 12 mg dose equivalents) in patients with infantile-onset spinal muscular atrophy. Eligible participants were of either gender aged between 3 weeks and 7 months old with onset of spinal muscular atrophy symptoms between 3 weeks and 6 months, who had SMN1 homozygous gene deletion or mutation. Safety assessments included adverse events, physical and neurological examinations, vital signs, clinical laboratory tests, cerebrospinal fluid laboratory tests, and electrocardiographs. Clinical efficacy assessments included event free survival, and change from baseline of two assessments of motor function: the motor milestones portion of the Hammersmith Infant Neurological Exam-Part 2 (HINE-2) and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Infant Test of Neuromuscular Disorders (CHOP-INTEND) motor function test, and compound motor action potentials. Autopsy tissue was analysed for target engagement, drug concentrations, and pharmacological activity. HINE-2, CHOP-INTEND, and compound motor action potential were compared between baseline and last visit using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Age at death or permanent ventilation was compared with natural history using the log-rank test. The study is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01839656.
Findings: 20 participants were enrolled between May 3, 2013, and July 9, 2014, and assessed through to an interim analysis done on Jan 26, 2016. All participants experienced adverse events, with 77 serious adverse events reported in 16 participants, all considered by study investigators not related or unlikely related to the study drug. In the 12 mg dose group, incremental achievements of motor milestones (p<0·0001), improvements in CHOP-INTEND motor function scores (p=0·0013), and increased compound muscle action potential amplitude of the ulnar nerve (p=0·0103) and peroneal nerve (p<0·0001), compared with baseline, were observed. Median age at death or permanent ventilation was not reached and the Kaplan-Meier survival curve diverged from a published natural history case series (p=0·0014). Analysis of autopsy tissue from patients exposed to nusinersen showed drug uptake into motor neurons throughout the spinal cord and neurons and other cell types in the brainstem and other brain regions, exposure at therapeutic concentrations, and increased SMN2 mRNA exon 7 inclusion and SMN protein concentrations in the spinal cord.
Interpretation: Administration of multiple intrathecal doses of nusinersen showed acceptable safety and tolerability, pharmacology consistent with its intended mechanism of action, and encouraging clinical efficacy. Results informed the design of an ongoing, sham-controlled, phase 3 clinical study of nusinersen in infantile-onset spinal muscular atrophy.
Funding: Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Biogen.
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