A randomized placebo-controlled phase 3 study of mesenchymal stem cells induced to secrete high levels of neurotrophic factors in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Muscle Nerve. 2022 Mar;65(3):291-302. doi: 10.1002/mus.27472. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Introduction/aims: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative illness with great unmet patient need. We aimed to evaluate whether mesenchymal stem cells induced to secrete high levels of neurotrophic factors (MSC-NTF), a novel autologous cell-therapy capable of targeting multiple pathways, could safely slow ALS disease progression.

Methods: This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolled ALS participants meeting revised El Escorial criteria, revised ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS-R) ≥25 (screening) and ≥3 ALSFRS-R points decline prior to randomization. Participants received three treatments of MSC-NTF or placebo intrathecally. The primary endpoint evaluated efficacy of MSC-NTF through a responder analysis and safety. A change in disease progression post-treatment of ≥1.25 points/mo defines a clinical response. A pre-specified analysis leveraged baseline ALSFRS-R of 35 as a subgroup threshold.

Results: Overall, MSC-NTF treatment was well tolerated; there were no safety concerns. Thirty-three percent of MSC-NTF and 28% of placebo participants met clinical response criteria at 28 wk (odds ratio [OR] = 1.33, P = .45); thus, the primary endpoint was not met. A pre-specified analysis of participants with baseline ALSFRS-R ≥ 35 (n = 58) showed a clinical response rate at 28 wk of 35% MSC-NTF and 16% placebo (OR = 2.6, P = .29). Significant improvements in cerebrospinal biomarkers of neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, and neurotrophic factor support were observed with MSC-NTF, with placebo unchanged.

Discussion: The study did not reach statistical significance on the primary endpoint. However, a pre-specified subgroup suggests that MSC-NTF participants with less severe disease may have retained more function compared to placebo. Given the unmet patient need, the results of this trial warrant further investigation.

Keywords: ALSFRS-R; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; biomarker; clinical trial; stem cells.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / diagnosis
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells*
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Transplantation, Autologous


  • Nerve Growth Factors