Pharmaceutical giant Roche – currently without a timeline, but mindful of the urgency – is gearing up for the pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial of IONIS-HTTRx, the gene-silencing drug shown to dramatically reduce the amount of the toxic protein implicated in Huntington’s disease in Phase 1/2a trial results announced March 1.
The earlier study was aimed only to assess safety and tolerability, but also provided signals regarding the drug’s potential efficacy. IONIS-HTTRx lowered the mutant huntingtin protein an average of 40 percent, with a maximum reduction of 60 percent, in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of participants in the Ionis Pharmaceuticals Phase 1/2a trial, completed in December 2017. Based on animal studies, that corresponds to reductions in the cerebral cortex of 55-85 percent. (Click here to read more.)
If Phase 3 is successful, that reduction in the cerebral cortex could mean alleviation or even reversal of HD symptoms. The source of thought and language, the cortex is the most developed area of the brain, and the most severely hampered by HD.
IONIS-HTTRx clinical trial leaders presented the results at the 13th Annual Huntington’s Disease Therapeutics Conference, sponsored by CHDI Foundation, Inc., and held at the Parker Palm Springs hotel in Palm Springs, CA. A nonprofit virtual biotech, CHDI has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the quest for treatments, including a $10 million payment to Ionis, later repaid to the foundation. It has helped draw attention to HD in the pharmaceutical industry.
Roche officials confirmed that the company would take the unusual step of skipping a Phase 2 trial (testing efficacy for the first time) and going directly to a Phase 3 (confirming efficacy in hundreds of participants).
The impressive Phase 1/2a results were the best news for the HD community since the discovery of the huntingtin gene in 1993. Forty-six early-stage HD patients took part at sites in England, Germany, and Canada.
A partner in the Ionis HD program since 2013, Roche now holds the license to IONIS-HTTRx. It is already conducting an open-label extension of the Phase 1/2a study, whereby all patients – including those who got placebo – will receive the drug. The extension allows researchers to gather critical additional data for planning Phase 3.
Roche now calls the drug RG6042. “R” is for Roche, and “G” for Genentech, a major U.S.-based biotech firm acquired by Roche in 2009. The number 6042 is a standard drug number assigned by the company. All U.S-based Roche personnel and products still use the name Genentech.
With a 120-year history and about 94,000 employees worldwide, Roche will bring considerable resources to bear in the Phase 3 trial. Hundreds will become involved in the project. It had a major presence at the CHDI meeting: twelve researchers and other personnel attended, including Scott Schobel, M.D., M.S., clinical science leader of product development.
“We’re all in,” Dr. Schobel told me, referring to the company’s commitment to the program.
To learn more about the plans for Phase 3, I interviewed three key members of the HD team, all based at Roche headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.
Lauren Boak, Ph.D., in her twelfth year at Roche, is the global development team leader, responsible for helping design, set up, and analyze clinical trials. Also in his twelfth year, Erik Lundgren, a Harvard University MBA, is the lifecycle leader of the HD team, involved in the manufacture and supply of the potential medicine, plus related matters such as regulatory approvals and educating the community about the drug. In her fifth year, Mai-Lise Nguyen is the patient partnership director for the HD program.
Source: At Risk for Huntington’s Disease