A novel treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that targets brain cell energy production to promote remyelination showed signs of efficacy in a phase 2 trial, though it did not meet its primary endpoint, which was the change in the summated motor unit index (MUNIX) from baseline to week 36.
The drug, CNM-Au8, is being developed by Clene, and would represent a novel mechanism of action. “This is a brand-new approach. We used it complementary with riluzole and it was well tolerated, tazo green tea latte iced so I see this as an add-on therapy. I think if we can show some more positivity and longer-term results, it’s going to be a game changer for ALS,” Matthew Kiernan, MBBS, PhD, said in an interview. Kiernan presented the results at the 2022 annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.
Riluzole (Rilutek), which received Food and Drug Administration approval in 1995, inhibits glutamate release to counter excitotoxicity, which is believed to play a role in ALS, Huntington’s disease, ischemia, and other acute and chronic neurodegenerative diseases. The other FDA-approved agent for ALS is the neuroprotective agent and free-radical scavenger edaravone (Radicava), approved in 2017.
CNM-Au8 is made up of catalytically active gold nanocrystals that cross the blood-brain barrier, but lacks the toxicity associated with other synthetic gold compounds, according to the company. The formulation is also being investigated for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Basic research has shown that it stabilizes mitochondria and reduces accumulation of the TDP-43 protein, which is linked to spread of ALS through the brain, Kiernan said during his presentation.
The treatment is well tolerated. “Normally in an ALS trial, we see about a 25% dropout rate. There were no dropouts on the active compound in the clinical trial. There are less deaths, so improved survival,” said Kiernan, the Bushell chair of neurology at the University of Sydney and codirector of the Brain and Mind Center in Sydney.
Good Safety Signal
The fact that the trial missed its primary endpoint isn’t too concerning, according to Nicholas Johnson, MD, who comoderated the session where the study was presented. “ALS clinical trials are incredibly difficult to conduct, especially a phase 2 learning-phase clinical trial. At this phase, I’m much more buoyed by the fact that they have a good safety signal, and that they’re willing to move forward to that phase 3 clinical trial,” Johnson said in an interview. He is vice chair of research at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.
A phase 3 clinical trial is in development in the United States and Europe. The drug also is included as part of the HEALEY ALS Platform Trial, which is testing multiple ALS therapies simultaneously. “The results from that should be available by the second half of this year and it will also inform us as to what the approach should be,” said Kiernan.
Johnson also was enthusiastic. “I’m excited to see the results in terms of the primary endpoints for that next phase 3 clinical trial,” he said.
In September 2021, Clene announced a second expanded access program for people with ALS.
The study included a 36-week double-blind treatment period followed by long-term, open-label follow-up. Twenty-three patients received 30 mg CNM-Au8, and 22 received placebo. In the first 36 weeks, the treatment group was more likely to have no disease progression, defined as death, tracheostomy, noninvasive ventilation, or a gastronomy tube (P = .0125). The researchers compared the probability of experiencing a less than 6-point decline in the Revised Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Functional Rating Scale. At 12 weeks, it was about 85% in both groups. At 24 weeks, it was about 60% to 50% in favor of the CNM-Au8 group, and at 36 weeks it was about 50% to 20% (P = .0350).
At 36 weeks, quality of life as measured by the ALS Specific Quality of Life–Short Form was better in the treatment group at 36 weeks (mean change, 0.9; P = .0177).
Survival was better in the treatment group at 96 weeks than the mortality derived from a European Network for the Cure of ALS prediction model (hazard ratio [HR], 0.2974; P = .0068). This benefit also was experienced by patients who received drug throughout the study (HR, 0.36; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.12-1.1) and those who started out on placebo and converted to active drug during the open-label period (HR, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.064-0.88).
The study was funded by Clene and FightMND. Kiernan and Johnson have no relevant financial disclosures.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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