Saturday, November 19, 2011

Phase I Study of ALN-TTR01 in Transthyretin Amyloidosis- A Preview

(For a discussion of the phase I results, see here).

Alnylam is about to reveal results from its phase I study with ALN-TTR01 for the treatment of transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR) at the Nov20-22 FAP meeting in Kunamoto, Japan. This blog provides a brief overview of the rational for RNAi Therapeutics in this disease and the importance of this particular study for the field of RNAi Therapeutics.

ATTR is an autosomal dominant amyloidotic disease due to point mutations (>100 possible) in the TTR gene. These mutations cause protein misfolding and aggregation into fibrils that, depending on which tissues they accumulate in, can cause various organ dysfunctions, most notably polyneuropathy (FAP), cardiomyopathy (FAC), and gastrointestinal/nutritional defects. For those that develop the disease, death is common 5-15 years following the emergence of disease symptoms (usually between 30 and 50 years of age). Although there is genotype-disease phenotype overlap, the most common mutation, Val30Met, strongly predisposes to FAP, while the Val122 is associated with FAC. About 10,000 patients suffer from FAP and 40,000 from FAC. As a rare genetic disease, it occurs in clusters, with FAP cases for example concentrated in Portugal, Sweden, and Japan.

Until recently, the only accepted treatment has been liver transplantation for FAP where removing the source of the mutant TTR in blood serum can reverse the polyneuropathy. Pfizer just got European approval for FAP with its small molecule TTR conformational stabilizer Vyndaqel based on slowing the rate of peripheral neuropathic impairment.

There exists, however, great need for additional therapies as Vyndaqel actually missed the primary endpoint in its pivotal study (the FDA did not accept the NDA for review earlier this year), and because liver transplantation is ineffective for FAC. The latter seems to be due to wildtype TTR still being able to deposit into pre-existing plaques, for example in heart tissue, at a rate that is higher than the turnover of the amyloidotic plaque. In fact, the amyloidotic potential of wildtype TTR is illustrated by the fact that it frequently causes spontaneous amyloidosis in elderly people (senile ATTR).

RNAi Therapeutics Approach to ATTR

The contribution of both wildtype and mutant to disease pathology, the dynamic turnover of plaques, and the fact that TTR knockout mice have the same life expectancy and fertility as their wildtype littermates and are otherwise essentially asymptomatic, makes RNAi Therapeutics a highly attractive treatment approach for this disease. TTR is involved in the transport of vitamin A and thyroxine in the blood, but it appears that in the absence of TTR these carrier functions are compensated for by other carrier proteins in the serum. What is more, essentially all the life-limiting pathologies are caused by TTR that is expressed in the liver, and with Tekmira’s SNALP delivery technology, RNAi can address the relevant gene expression.

TTR01 vs TTR02

One source of confusion that I expect to affect the financial markets tomorrow stems from Alnylam developing two candidates for ATTR, ALN-TTR01 and ALN-TTR02, the difference between the two candidates being in the SNALP lipid composition. TTR01 is the subject of the present trial and is based on an early DLinDMA lipid-containing formulation. It was shown to be effective in knocking down TTR in non-human primates with an ED50 of around 0.3-0.4mg/kg. As the highest dose in the phase I study was 1mg/kg it is reasonable to expect there to be evidence for TTR knockdown in the ALN-TTR01 trial. I should warn, however, that because of the small patient number in each dose cohort and the natural intra- and inter-patient variability of TTR levels in the serum, the pharmacodynamic outcome measure in this trial, the pooled numbers may not give us a straightforward 'stat-significant' answer.

Because of the rapid developments in improving the efficacy and tolerability of SNALP technology, it is therefore almost assured that Alnylam will drop TTR01 and prioritize TTR02 which takes advantage of these developments and for which the filing of an IND is imminent.

Consequently, the importance of tomorrow’s results for the RNAi Therapeutics field lies in providing proof-of-concept for RNAi knockdown following systemic delivery at OKish tolerability. That’s it. It also sets up the results from the phase I studies with ALN-PCS02, the PCSK9-targeting hypercholesterolemia candidate, which are expected to be reported by the end of this year. As PCS02 uses one of the more recent SNALP formulations, this will be the SNALP candidate that has to shine both in terms of knockdown efficacy and safety/tolerability.

ATTR Economics

If you had any doubts as to the commercial potential of ATTR, it is worth noting that Vyndaqel, Pfizer's just-approved TTR drug, is expected to be priced at more than 100,000 Euros per patient year and that most (known) FAP patients are in healthcare systems that will still bear such costs. Pfizer last year paid $200M in upfront considerations for FoldRx, the original developer of Vyndaqel, with another $200M in contingent milestones. Although FoldRx has a mission of developing other protein folding-based drugs, this price tag was essentially for a drug with results from a pivotal trial that failed to meet the primary endpoint and for which approval was far from certain. Considering Alnylam’s cash position, this one registrational drug candidate valued FoldRx higher than all of Alnylam- although you might justify that with the mounting existential risks stemming from Alnylam's alleged theft and misuse of Tekmira's SNALP technology.

Given these economics, it is not surprising that other companies have similarly recognized the commercial potential of ATTR. Importantly, ISIS Pharmaceuticals will also present progress with its antisense candidate for ATTR (ISIS-TTRRx) at the meeting. This candidate entered clinical development in May and is financed by GSK which retains an option for its exclusive license.

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Jerry said...

Regarding the TTR01 vs TTR02 compounds. I think both ALNY and TKM acknowledge the first generation SNALP is licensed from TKM. But what is your sense about the IP involved in the 2nd generation SNALP? Is it a leap to assume that it is potentially stolen or at least contested IP and embroiled in the ongoing lawsuit between ALNY and TKM?

Dirk Haussecker said...

The 'second gen' formulation in TTR02 (containing MC3) is indeed one of those contested. Dr. Vaishnaw from Alnylam called it yesterday 'proprietary', despite of this:

Jerry said...

Interesting. I gather Tekmira feels it was robbed of IP to produce 2nd generation SNALP. Is Alcana capable of producing it and licensing to ALNY, or did ALCANA just pass info on to ALNY which produced the 2nd gen SNALP? Not sure it matters legally, except that Tekmira might have more to gain if ALNY clearly was the culprit.

Dirk Haussecker said...

For practical purposes, Alnylam and AlCana (=Alnylam Canada) are one and the same entity, and I don't believe that feigning ignorance about where the MC3 insights came from (via Alnylam Canada scientists then working as consultants for Alnylam after their firing from Tekmira) would protect Alnylam from liability as it is clear to any scientist (and probably also non-scientist juries looking at the structures) that MC3 (and all the other 'rationally' developed lipids) were derived from Tekmira's work. 'Rational' here means 'based on Tekmira trade secrets and know-how'.

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