Here we go again–Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug solanezumab fails to show efficacy in Phase 3, but company is “encouraged” by secondary analysis


Amyloid precursor protein (APP)

As we mentioned in our August 19, 2012 article on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the results of Phase 3 trials of Lilly’s amyloid-targeting monoclonal antibody (MAb) drug solanezumab, had been expected soon.

On August 24 2012, Lilly announced the top-line results of the two Phase 3, double-blind, placebo-controlled EXPEDITION trials of solanezumab in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The primary endpoints, both cognitive and functional, were not met in either of these trials.

However, a pre-specified secondary analysis of pooled data across both trials showed statistically significant slowing of cognitive decline in the overall study population, and pre-specified secondary subgroup analyses of pooled data across both studies showed a statistically significant slowing of cognitive decline in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, but not in patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

These results were reported in a press release.  What was absent was data from the trials. However, the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), (an academic national research consortium) will present its independent analysis of the data from the EXPEDITION studies at the American Neurological Association (ANA) meeting in Boston on October 8, 2012, and at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) meeting in Monte Carlo, Monaco, on October 30, 2012.

Once again, an amyloid pathway-targeting drug for Alzheimer’s disease that was taken into Phase 3 trials despite Phase 2 results that showed no statistically significant efficacy has failed in Phase 3. Solanezumab joins a list of such failed drugs that includes Myriad Pharmaceuticals’ Flurizan (tarenflurbil), Neurochem’s (now Bellus Health) Alzhemed (3-amino-1-propanesulfonic acid), and as of July 2012, Pfizer/Janssen’s bapineuzumab (“bapi”). Nevertheless, as in the Phase 2 results with bapi, Lilly sees hope for the drug in the results of secondary analyses.

On the day of the Lilly announcement, August 24 2012, Lilly executives and stock analysts turned the results of these trials into something “positive”, as the result of the secondary analysis. This resulted in a one-day 3.4 percent increase in the price of Lilly stock. However, the results of the secondary analysis do not give Lilly any basis for going to the FDA with a New Drug Application (NDA) for solanezumab. Nor do they provide any realistic hope for AD patients, the physicians who treat them, or caregivers of AD patients.

At best, Lilly’s secondary analysis gives rise to a hypothesis–that solanezumab–and presumably other anti-amyloid MAbs–will be effective in treating earlier-stage AD patients, especially those who have not suffered extensive, irreversible brain damage. This is the very same hypothesis that is now being tested by Roche/Genentech in its clinical trials of its anti-amyloid MAb crenezumab, as we discussed in our August 19, 2012 article. Genentech is testing its drug candidate in a Phase 2a trial in a very special population–members of a large Colombian kindred who harbor a mutation in presenilin 1 (PS1) that causes dominant early−onset familial AD.

A News Focus article in the 17 August 2012 issue of Science, written by science writer Greg Miller, PhD, discusses three upcoming clinical trials designed to test the “treat early-stage or presymptomatic AD with anti-amyloid MAbs” hypothesis. One of these studies is the Genentech trial of crenezumab in the extended family in Colombia.

Another of these studies is being conducted in conjunction with the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN), a consortium led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO). This study will include people with mutations in any of the three genes linked to early-stage, dominantly-inherited AD–PS1, PS2, and amyloid precursor protein (APP).

Initial studies, published ahead of print in the July 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) looked at changes in biomarkers and in cognitive ability as a function of expected age of AD onset in people with these mutations. Concentrations of amyloid-β1–42 (Aβ42) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) appeared to decline 25 years before expected symptom onset. This decrease may reflect impaired clearance of Aβ42 from the brain, which may be a factor in the amyloid plaque increase that is associated with AD. Amyloid accumulation in the brain was detected 15 years before expected symptom onset. Other biomarkers, as well as cognitive impairment, were also followed in the study published in the NEJM. In the first stage of the actual trial, three drugs (which have not yet been selected) will be tested in this population, and changes in biomarkers and cognitive performance will be followed.

The third study, known as the Anti-Amyloid Treatment of Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (A4) trial, will involve treating adults without mutations in any of the above three genes, whose brain scans show signs of amyloid accumulation. A4 is thus designed to study prevention of sporadic AD (by far the most common form of the disease). It will enroll 500 people age 70 or older who test positive on a scan of amyloid accumulation in the brain. (This is in contrast to the two trials in subjects with gene mutations, who are typically in their 30s or 40s.) A4 will also have a control arm of 500 amyloid-negative subjects. Amyloid-positive and control subjects will be entered into a three-year double-blind clinical trial that will look at changes in cognition with drug treatment. The A4 researchers [led by  Reisa Sperling, Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard University (Boston, MA), and Paul Aisen, University of California, San Diego] plan to select a drug for testing by December 2012.

If Lilly wishes to test solanezumab in early-stage (or presymptomatic) sporadic AD, it will need to follow a similar methodology to the studies outlined in the new Science article, especially with respect to the use of biomarkers to define “early-stage” AD and to track the effects of the drug. Studies such as the DIAN biomarker study published in the NEJM used the positron emission tomography (PET) ligand Pittsburgh Compound-B (PiB-C11), to image amyloid plaques. However, the use of this compound is limited by the short half-life of carbon-11 (20.4 minutes). A new PET amyloid imaging agent, Amyvid (florbetapir F18 Injection) was developed by Lilly and approved by the FDA in April 2012. This compound contains fluorine-18, which has a half-life of 109.8 minutes. A recent study indicates that Amyvid provides comparable information to PiB-C11. If Lilly wishes to conduct new studies of solanezumab in early-stage or presymptomatic sporadic AD, it may wish to use Amyvid, as suggested in a comment to an August 24, 2012 solanezumab post in Derek Lowe’s blog “In the Pipeline”. However, the FDA, in its press release announcing the approval of Amyvid, warns that increased amyloid plaque content (as detected by Amyvid or Pittsburgh Compound-B) may be present in the brains of patients with non-AD neurologic conditions, and in older people with normal cognition. Thus defining or detecting “early-stage (or presymptomatic) sporadic AD” is difficult.

In any case, for Lilly to follow up on its secondary analyses of the Phase 3 clinical trials of solanezumab will necessitate additional long and expensive clinical trials, with no assurance of success. Lilly executives will need to determine if such a course is worth the risk, or whether it should invest in other R&D efforts that might have a higher probability of success.


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