Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Clinical Results Put ALN-PCS Firmly in Business in PCSK9 Race


Alnylam reported on Friday updated results from the phase I single-dose, dose-escalation trial of its hypercholesterolemia candidate ALN-PCS02.  Importantly, the data demonstrate that ALN-PCS can produce clinically meaningful 30-40% reductions in LDLc (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) for much of the 28 study days of the study after only a single infusion of the drug.  This bodes well that ALN-PCS may be useful for the millions of patients that cannot achieve their LDL cholesterol goals despite the availability of statins.

After presenting solid PCSK9 knockdown results in January from subjects receiving up to 0.25mg/kg of the PCSK9 siRNAs which are critically enabled by Tekmira's SNALP delivery technology, the latest data include the results from subjects receiving 0.4mg/kg PCSK9 siRNAs after the decision had been made to increase the top dose based on the favorable safety-efficacy profile thus far.  This was important because despite the solid plasma PCSK9 reductions seen up to 0.25mg/kg (roughly 50% mean reductions throughout the 28 days), both the peak and average mean LDLc reductions until then had been less than 30% and 20%, respectively.  Probably not enough to effectively compete in the hot PCSK9 field.  

Based on the latest data, which included impressive >80% target plasma PCSK9 reductions, it is reasonable that ALN-PCS will be able to achieve average (=sustained) ~45-50% LDLc reductions in a once-every-4-week dosing regime.  This would put it just slightly behind Regeneron’s PCSK9-targeting monoclonal antibody REGN727 in terms of LDLc lowering.  It may be more difficult for ALN-PCS to achieve the LDLc lowering efficacy of Amgen’s PCSK9-targeting antibody AMG145 which has been hailed at the recent ACCconference to produce LDLc lowering of ‘up to’ ~60-80% at apparently pristine safety and tolerability.  I should add, however, that the warts-and-all data on AMG 145 have yet to be made publicly available.

In light of the intense competition in the PCSK9 space and a possible potency disadvantage for this surrogate marker, it will be interesting whether, firstly, the pharmaceutical industry (note, a larger partner will have to be found to financially shoulder the unavoidable outcomes trial), and eventually the market-place will adopt this new class primarily for their absolute LDLc reducing ability or in order for patients to achieve their lipid goals.  Some LDLc proponents, of course, stress that the lower the LDLc, the better.  On the other hand, whether a drug can lower LDLc by 50% or 70% won’t matter for many patients when it comes to simply achieving standard LDLc goals of 100mg/dL or even 70mg/dL.  In that environment, the focus in making the choice between competing drugs would shift to factors beyond mere LDLc lowering potential, particularly safety.

While ALN-PCS is mainly suffering from the fact that it is given following pre-treatment with corticosteroids, something that also had important impacts on the PCSK9 and LDLc efficacy data, the once much-touted safety profile of the PCSK9 antibodies have taken a significant hit with the publication of phase II data from REGN727 (McKenney et al. 2012).  In addition to one serious adverse event, a case of potentially life-threatening inflammation of blood vessels (leukocytoclastic vasculitis) that, however, readily resolved after giving corticosteroids, there was an apparently dose-dependent, adverse event-related increase in the rate of discontinuations, with ~15-20% discontinuing treatment in the biweekly dose cohorts in study 11565.  Next to the case of vessel inflammation, the AE-related discontinuations involved cases of neutropenia, fatigue, injection site rashes, chest pain, and headache/nausea. 

Amgen has yet to publicize more detailed data for AMG145.

Next to multi-dosing and the safety and efficacy impacts of omitting corticosteroids in future studies, another important question for ALN-PCS that remains to be answered in the upcoming trials will be testing the candidate in patients on statins.  REGN727 encountered problems here as patients concomitantly taking statins experienced an LDLc rebound effect after around 2 weeks.  Whether this is a class effect of agents merely blocking extracellular PCSK9 (such as antibodies), instead of inhibiting the synthesis of both intra- and extracellular PCSK9 such as ALN-PCS is an interesting question.  

This mechanistic difference could also be the big wildcard when it comes to the ultimate arbiter of clinical utility, the outcome trials: despite the clear evidence that LDLc levels are inversely related with cardiovascular events, with all the complicated feedback loops of lipid biology and related diseases, mechanistic differences could easily erase 20% differences in LDLc lowering.  An indication that these theoretical considerations are translating into the clinic may be deduced from the observation that (in Alnylam's words) ‘importantly, ALN-PCS demonstrated consistent clinical activity toward both PCSK9 and LDL-C independent of baseline levels of PCSK9, highlighting the unique mechanism of action for a PCSK9 synthesis inhibitor.’

For Alnylam, the near-term challenge will be thus to find a large partner, probably without a stake in PCSK9 yet, willing to take the risk with RNAi Therapeutics mainly for the differentiation it offers over the other PCSK9 approaches.  A stumble of the monoclonal antibody class could easily mean that ALN-PCS becomes the lead candidate in the PCSK9 market, estimated by many to be a multi-billion dollar one. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Merck have presented interesting results in non human primate study using AAV8-shRNA at ASGCT 2012 this week:

"Transduction of AAV8- shPcsk9 resulted in up to 88%
reduction of plasma PCSK9 and up to 62% reduction of LDL-c.."

p12 of programme

http://www.asgct.org/UserFiles/file/Addendum-Complete.pdf

Anonymous said...

Very, very interesting. Someone at Merck must feel pretty darn stupid they paid $1.15 billion for siRNA instead of shRNA.

It seems that Tacere, sick and tired of waiting for Pfizer, have released their yet to be published monkey studies for HCV. This is one of many ddRNAi studies presented at ASGCT.

Looks very, very interesting as well:

http://www.abstracts2view.com/asgct/view.php?nu=ASGT12L1_335&terms=

How can Benitec be worth less than $20 million?

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