Article

Translating the therapeutic potential of neurotrophic factors to clinical 'proof of concept': A personal saga achieving a career-long quest

Ceregene, Inc., San Diego, CA 92121, USA.
Neurobiology of Disease (Impact Factor: 5.2). 04/2012; 48(2):153-78. DOI: 10.1016/j.nbd.2012.04.004
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT While the therapeutic potential of neurotrophic factors has been well-recognized for over two decades, attempts to translate that potential to the clinic have been disappointing, largely due to significant delivery obstacles. Similarly, gene therapy (or gene transfer) emerged as a potentially powerful, new therapeutic approach nearly two decades ago and despite its promise, also suffered serious setbacks when applied to the human clinic. As advances continue to be made in both fields, ironically, they may now be poised to complement each other to produce a translational breakthrough. The accumulated data argue that gene transfer provides the 'enabling technology' that can solve the age-old delivery problems that have plagued the translation of neurotrophic factors as treatments for chronic central nervous system diseases. A leading translational program applying gene transfer to deliver a neurotrophic factor to rejuvenate and protect degenerating human neurons is CERE-120 (AAV2-NRTN). To date, over two dozen nonclinical studies and three clinical trials have been completed. A fourth (pivotal) clinical trial has completed all dosing and is currently evaluating safety and efficacy. In total, eighty Parkinson's disease (PD) subjects have thus far been dosed with CERE-120 (some 7 years ago), representing over 250 cumulative patient-years of exposure, with no serious safety issues identified. In a completed sham-surgery, double-blinded controlled trial, though the primary endpoint (the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UDPRS) motor off score measured at 12 months) did not show benefit from CERE-120, several important motor and quality of life measurements did, including the same UPDRS-motor-off score, pre-specified to also be measured at a longer, 18-month post-dosing time point. Importantly, not a single measurement favored the sham control group. This study therefore, provided important, well-controlled evidence establishing 'clinical proof of concept' for gene transfer to the CNS and the first controlled evidence for clinical benefit of a neurotrophic factor in a human neurodegenerative disease. This paper reviews the development of CERE-120, starting historically with the long-standing interest in the therapeutic potential of neurotrophic factors and continuing with selective accounts of past efforts to translate their potential to the clinic, eventually leading to the application of gene transfer and its role as the 'enabling technology'. Because of growing interest in translational R&D, including its practice in industry, the paper is uniquely oriented from the author's personal, quasi-autobiographic perspective and career-long experiences conducting translational research and development, with a focus on various translational neurotrophic factor programs spanning 30+ years in Big Pharma and development-stage biotech companies. It is hoped that by sharing these perspectives, practical insight and information might be provided to others also interested in translational R&D as well as neurotrophic factors and gene therapy, offering readers the opportunity to benefit from some of our successes, while possibly avoiding some of our missteps.

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