Objective: This Phase I trial of ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) delivered intrathecally for the treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis was designed to determine the safety of this new mode of administration as well as the pharmacokinetics and drug distribution.
Methods: CNTF was administered using a drug pump implanted into the lumbar subarachnoid space in each of four patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Escalating doses (0.4, 0.8, 1.6, 4, and 8 micrograms/h) were infused for 48 hours per week in 2-week cycles until the highest tolerated dose was achieved. Patients were observed for side effects, and standardized muscle and respiratory function tests were performed. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of CNTF were determined using simultaneous lumbar and cervical taps. Plasma and CSF levels of antibodies, CSF cells and protein, and routine blood chemistries were monitored, as were weight and vital signs.
Results: Pharmacokinetic studies of four patients demonstrated that the distribution and clearance of recombinant human (rH)CNTF are similar to those of many small, water-soluble agents (morphine, baclofen, clonidine) and that the steady-state concentration of rHCNTF at the cervical level was 18 to 36% of that at the lumbar level. Lumbar CSF levels were in the range of 44 to 1230 ng/ml. Intrathecally administered rHCNTF had different adverse effects than the systemically delivered drug. With intrathecal administration, no asthenia, fever, chills, nausea, weight loss, increased cough, or sputum production was found. All patients who received rHCNTF intrathecally experienced dose-related CSF pleocytosis (primarily lymphocytic) and rises in protein levels. No clinical signs of meningeal irritation, such as stiff neck, photophobias, or nausea, were seen. However, one patient who had lumbar spinal stenosis developed severe burning and cramping leg pain. A second patient developed a severe headache and leg and back cramping. No abnormal clinical chemistry or hematological findings were encountered. Plasma levels of rHCNTF were below detection. Antibodies to rHCNTF were found in the systemic circulation of only one patient. The gradual decline in motor strength and performance of standard skills did not improve or worsen.
Conclusions: In this first trial of a recombinant neurotrophic factor to be administered intrathecally by drug pump, the CNTF was well distributed along the spinal canal. Pain syndromes (headache, radicular pain) that were dose-related occurred in two patients, but systemic side effects, which had been observed with subcutaneous rHCNTF, did not occur. Intrathecal drug pump delivery of neurotrophic factors may be the most appropriate way in which to test the efficacy of these high-molecular weight proteins, because high CSF levels can be achieved without significant systemic side effects.