PF-4523655 is arguably RNAi's most advanced clinical candidate. A naked, 19bp blunt-ended intravitreally injected AtuRNAi molecule, it had completed a phase II study in diabetic macular edema (DME) for which the results suggested a benefit over laser treatment; there was another phase II study of the same molecule in wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD) for which Quark, along with partner Pfizer had yet to report results.
These studies were also important for Silence Therapeutics, as an advance of any of these programs into phase III would have spelled the long-awaited non-dilutive funding (about $4M). Unfortunately, despite the suggestive DME efficacy data, Pfizer was not satisfied with the commercial competitiveness of the results in light of the newer VEGF pathway inhibitors. Therefore, Pfizer and Quark agreed that Quark would run a phase IIb study on its own dime testing higher doses of ‘655 in a head-to-head trial with VEGF MAb Lucentis. Pfizer would retain opt-in rights.
Still, the results from the wet AMD trial were outstanding. Expectations were relatively low though as in March 2011, as Quark attempted (yet again) to go public, the company disclosed that ‘655 was ‘not superior’ compared to Lucentis at the primary endpoint. Still, full results remained to be reported, probably in H2 2011. These results, however, never came. Since clinicaltrials.gov indicated that the study had been completed, it became obvious that there had been no positive surprises.
In its full-year results presentation, Silence Therapeutics today confirmed that while ‘[t]he trial demonstrated a dose-dependent increase in benefit of PF-04523655. Quark is now awaiting results from the Phase IIb trial in diabetic macular oedema before deciding on plans for the drug in age-related macular degeneration.’ In other words, not good for Quark and not good for Silence Therapeutics either: the fate of the wet AMD program now depends on the results from the phase IIb DME trial. It also seems that, like for DME, Pfizer has handed back the compound to Quark for wet AMD based on changes in the clinicaltrials.gov database in November 2011 that show ‘Pfizer’ being changed to ‘Quark’ in a number of entries relating to the sponsor of the trial. The silence (small letter) by Quark can be explained by the fact that it seems to have given up on going public for the time being.
From a medical point of view, the DME and wet AMD developments are a pity. If it is indeed the commercial profile vis-à-vis the protein-based VEGF pathway inhibitors that is keeping ‘655 from going into phase III, and not lack of efficacy, it may indicate some unjustified bias against RNAi Therapeutics. Both classes are intravitreally injected and there are many patients that are dissatisfied with the efficacy of these proteins. As a result, patients seek help from (expensive) treatments (such as acupuncture) that have not passed, or even undertaken formal clinical studies. What would be attractive with a molecule such as ‘655 is that it is not supposed to work as a VEGF pathway inhibitor and would thus offer a complementary mechanism of action (anti-apoptotic). On the other hand, since Quark has been so coy with the data, I suspect that bias alone may not explain Pfizer’s decision. Maybe with a sounder basis of delivery, next-generation RNAi Therapeutics candidates can address that void.