Wednesday, March 13, 2013

ISIS-CRP Phase I Results: The Decreasing Competitiveness of RNaseH Antisense for Liver Gene Knockdown

To maintain is positive trajectory of the recent comeback, it is important for RNAi Therapeutics to firmly claim gene knockdown in the liver for itself.  This is because liver gene knockdown is the lowest hanging fruit for the technology, yet RNaseH antisense has proven to be capable of gene knockdown there as well.   If RNaseH were to crystallize as the preferred technology, it would jeopardize a considerable portion of the near to midterm market potential of RNAi Therapeutics.  Just think of Alnylam's 5x15(TM) portfolio of drug candidates.

As I have explained before, dose/tissue oligonucleotide concentrations and, related to that, safety/tolerability will determine which technology will win the competition.  Although the odds seem in favor of RNAi Therapeutics, ISIS Pharmaceuticals keeps promising that improved chemistry and screening methods will improve upon the modest potency (~30-35% ApoB knockdown) of and the safety concerns with mipomersen.  Due to the importance of liver gene knockdown to RNAi Therapeutics, this blog will continue to comment on the respective data points as they come in.

RNaseH Antisense CRP Phase I Data

Today, ISIS Pharmaceuticals announced phase I knockdown data from its c-reactive protein (CRP) program, ISIS-CRPRx.   CRP, a gene expressed by the liver, is believed (by some, not all) to act as a central player in a host of inflammatory diseases such as atrial fibrillation and rheumatoid arthritis.  Phase II studies for these indications are ongoing.

The phase I study tested whether ISIS-CRPRx can blunt CRP induction upon inflammatory stress.  Accordingly, healthy volunteers were dosed 6 times over 3 weeks with either 400mg or 600mg of the phosphorothioate antisense molecule against CRP.  Following that, subjects received endotoxin, a common laboratory reagent that is interpreted by the body as an infection.

Subjects treated with placebo saw an approximately 30-fold increase in CRP levels due to endotoxin.  When pre-treated with 400mg and 600mg, however, the induction was reduced by 36% and 63%, respectively.
Although the study succeeded in showing that ISIS-CRPRx could blunt CRP induction, it is much less clear whether ISIS-CRPRx makes for a viable therapeutic.  A 63% knockdown knockdown may be OK for some indications, but intuitively one has to wonder whether to stop an acute inflammation in its tracks you need to step much harder on brakes like CRP.  Indeed, the press release proclaimed, as a testament to the specificity of the drug candidate, that ‘other important immune modulators’ were not changed- somewhat puzzling given that CRP is thought to play such a central role in inflammation.

Be that as it may, what the press release did not mention was the side effect profile seen in the ISIS-CRPRx phase I study; to wit, safety and tolerability is the primary objective of any phase I study.  What concerns me is that mipomersen is 200mg weekly and causes injection side reactions, flu-like symptoms, and indications of chronic inflammation which are likely the result of the elevated steady-state tissue concentrations required for RNaseH antisense efficacy.  In the CRP study, 2- to 3-times more phosphorothioate antisense molecules were given.  Although the side effect profile of an RNaseH antisense molecule is also sequence-dependent, doses of 400mg and higher have historically been associated with toxicity/tolerability considered unacceptable outside of cancer.   

My prediction is that due to the poor efficacy-dose relationship, ISIS-CRPRx will not go into phase III.  We have to see whether the gen2.5 cET chemistry brings any significant increases in clinical potencies as inherent molecular potencies as measured in cell culture studies may not take into consideration other pharmacological rate-limiting factors.  If gen2.5 can lower liver tissue concentrations required to obtain 50% gene silencing into the low single-digit microgram/g range, RNaseH would become more interesting again for the liver.  Otherwise, it seems that more fertile hunting grounds for antisense technologies may be found in the areas of noncoding RNAs (e.g. microRNAs and lincRNAs) and therapeutic splice regulation, especially when the target molecules have a long nuclear residence time.  With ISIS about to present phase I data for its spinal muscular atrophy splice modulation drug candidate at next week’s AAN meeting, a next step into that strategic re-direction may be taken.


BioDueDiligence said...

I concur, as I tweeted earlier. This trial was bound to "work" but gives no indication of success in other trials seeking disease modification in RA, etc based on CRP knockdown. I still agree the program was a worthy gamble

Anonymous said...

Dose level seems to be 4 to 6 times more than mipomersen. Mipomersen is a weekly injection, CRP seems to be twice a week injection.

Dirk Haussecker said...

Well, you have the initial loading dose schedule which is typical for phosphorothioate antisense. In any case, it seems to me that with the aggressive 400mg and 600mg the company believed that they need to have a very profound CRP knockdown to be biologically meaningful.

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