Background & aims: Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is associated with increased risk of liver-related and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Given the complex pathophysiology of NASH, combining therapies with complementary mechanisms may be beneficial. This trial evaluated the safety and efficacy of semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist, alone and in combination with the farnesoid X receptor agonist cilofexor and/or the acetyl-coenzyme A carboxylase inhibitor firsocostat in patients with NASH.
Methods: This was a phase II, open-label, proof-of-concept trial in which patients with NASH (F2-F3 on biopsy, or MRI-proton density fat fraction [MRI-PDFF] ≥10% and liver stiffness by transient elastography ≥7 kPa) were randomised to 24 weeks' treatment with semaglutide 2.4 mg once weekly as monotherapy or combined with once-daily cilofexor (30 or 100 mg) and/or once-daily firsocostat 20 mg. The primary endpoint was safety. All efficacy endpoints were exploratory.
Results: A total of 108 patients were randomised to semaglutide (n = 21), semaglutide plus cilofexor 30 mg (n = 22), semaglutide plus cilofexor 100 mg (n = 22), semaglutide plus firsocostat (n = 22) or semaglutide, cilofexor 30 mg and firsocostat (n = 21). Treatments were well tolerated - the incidence of adverse events was similar across groups (73-90%) and most events were gastrointestinal in nature. Despite similar weight loss (7-10%), compared with semaglutide monotherapy, combinations resulted in greater improvements in liver steatosis measured by MRI-PDFF (least-squares mean of absolute changes: -9.8 to -11.0% vs. -8.0%), liver biochemistry, and non-invasive tests of fibrosis.
Conclusions: In patients with mild-to-moderate fibrosis due to NASH, semaglutide with firsocostat and/or cilofexor was generally well tolerated. In exploratory efficacy analyses, treatment resulted in additional improvements in liver steatosis and biochemistry vs. semaglutide alone. Given this was a small-scale open-label trial, double-blind placebo-controlled trials with adequate patient numbers are warranted to assess the efficacy and safety of these combinations in NASH.
Clinical trial registration number: NCT03987074.
Lay summary: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and its more severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), are serious liver conditions that worsen over time if untreated. The reasons people develop NASH are complex and combining therapies that target different aspects of the disease may be more helpful than using single treatments. This trial showed that the use of 3 different types of drugs, namely semaglutide, cilofexor and firsocostat, in combination was safe and may offer additional benefits over treatment with semaglutide alone.
Keywords: NASH; cilofexor; fibrosis; firsocostat; non-alcoholic steatohepatitis; semaglutide.
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