Background & aims: The benefits of farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonists in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) have been validated, although improvements in efficacy and/or tolerability remain elusive. Herein, we aimed to assess the performance of a structurally optimized FXR agonist in patients with NASH.
Methods: In this 12-week, randomized, placebo-controlled study, we evaluated MET409 - a non-bile acid agonist with a unique chemical scaffold - in patients with NASH. Patients were randomized to receive either 80 mg (n = 20) or 50 mg (n = 19) of MET409, or placebo (n = 19).
Results: At Week 12, MET409 lowered liver fat content (LFC), with mean relative reductions of 55% (80 mg) and 38% (50 mg) vs. 6% in placebo (p <0.001). MET409 achieved ≥30% relative LFC reduction in 93% (80 mg) and 75% (50 mg) of patients vs. 11% in placebo (p <0.001) and normalized LFC (≤5%) in 29% (80 mg) and 31% (50 mg) of patients vs. 0% in placebo (p <0.05). An increase in alanine aminotransferase (ALT) was observed with MET409, confounding Week 12 changes from baseline (-25% for 80 mg, 28% for 50 mg). Nonetheless, MET409 achieved ≥30% relative ALT reduction in 50% (80 mg) and 31% (50 mg) of patients vs. 17% in placebo. MET409 was associated with on-target high-density lipoprotein cholesterol decreases (mean changes of -23.4% for 80 mg and -20.3% for 50 mg vs. 2.6% in placebo) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) increases (mean changes of 23.7% for 80 mg and 6.8% for 50 mg vs. -1.5% in placebo). Pruritus (mild-moderate) occurred in 16% (50 mg) and 40% (80 mg) of MET409-treated patients.
Conclusion: MET409 lowered LFC over 12 weeks in patients with NASH and delivered a differentiated pruritus and LDL-C profile at 50 mg, providing the first clinical evidence that the risk-benefit profile of FXR agonists can be enhanced through structural optimization.
Lay summary: Activation of the farnesoid X receptor (FXR) is a clinically validated approach for treating non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), although side effects such as itching or increases in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol are frequently dose-limiting. MET409, an FXR agonist with a unique chemical structure, led to significant liver fat reduction and delivered a favorable side effect profile after 12 weeks of treatment in patients with NASH. These results provide the first clinical evidence that the risk-benefit profile of FXR agonists can be enhanced.
Keywords: Farnesoid X Receptor; Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Proton Density Fat Fraction; Metabolic Liver Disease; Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis.
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