A single gene therapy injection could dramatically reduce the bleeding risk faced by people with haemophilia B, a study at UCL has found.
For the research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, experts from UCL, Royal Free Hospital and biotechnology company Freeline Therapeutics trialled and continue to evaluate a new type of adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy candidate, called FLT180a, to treat severe and moderately severe cases of the condition.
Haemophilia B is a rare and inherited genetic bleeding disorder caused by low levels of the factor IX (FIX) protein, needed for forming blood clots that help prevent or stop bleeding. The gene responsible for making FIX protein is located on the X chromosome, so the severe form of haemophilia B is much more common in men.
Currently, patients with haemophilia B need to inject themselves regularly – usually weekly – with recombinant FIX, i.e. regular replacement therapy to prevent excessive bleeding. Despite advances in treatment, patients may continue to see debilitating joint damage.
The trial, called B-AMAZE, and the related long-term follow up study found that one-time treatment with FLT180a led to sustained production of FIX protein from the liver in nine of ten patients, across four different dose levels, removing the need for regular replacement therapy.
Out of 17 male patients aged 18 or over who underwent screening, ten with severe or moderately severe haemophilia B took part in the 26-week trial of FLT180a. They are also all enrolled in the long-term follow up study to assess safety and durability of FIX expression for 15 years.
Lead author Professor Pratima Chowdary (UCL Cancer Institute and Royal Free Hospital) said: “Removing the need for haemophilia patients to regularly inject themselves with the missing protein is an important step in improving their quality of life. The long term follow up study will monitor the patients for durability of expression and surveillance for late effects.”
AAV gene therapy works by using a packaging from the proteins found in the outer coat of the virus, to deliver a functional copy of a gene directly to patient tissues to compensate for one that is not working properly. Newly synthesised proteins are released into the blood and a one-time infusion can achieve long-lasting effects.
Patients needed to take immune suppressing drugs over several weeks to several months, to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the therapy, and all reported known side effects.
While the treatment was generally well tolerated, all patients experienced some form of adverse events, with an abnormal blood clot in one who received the highest FLT180a dose and had the highest levels of FIX protein.
Freeline co-founder Professor Amit Nathwani (UCL Medical Sciences), who co-authored the study, said: “Gene therapy is still a young field that pushes the boundaries of science for people with severe genetic diseases.
“The B-AMAZE long-term data add to the growing body of evidence that gene therapy has the potential to free patients from the challenges of having to adhere to lifelong therapy or could provide treatment where none exists today.”
In nine out of the ten patients, the treatment led to a sustained increase in FIX protein production, which led to a decrease in excessive bleeding. They also no longer required weekly injections of FIX protein.
After 26 weeks, five patients had normal levels of FIX protein, three had low but increased levels, and one patient treated at the highest dose had an abnormally high level.