On December 23, 2016, the FDA approved Spinraza (nusinersen), the first drug approved to treat children and adults with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare and often fatal genetic disease affecting muscle strength and movement. Spinraza is an injection administered into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord.
SMA is a hereditary disease that causes weakness and muscle wasting because of the loss of lower motor neurons controlling movement. There is wide variability in age of onset, symptoms, and rate of progression. Spinraza is approved for use across the range of spinal muscular atrophy patients.
“There has been a long-standing need for a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, the most common genetic cause of death in infants, and a disease that can affect people at any stage of life,” said Billy Dunn, M.D., director of the Division of Neurology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “As shown by our suggestion to the sponsor to analyze the results of the study earlier than planned, the FDA is committed to assisting with the development and approval of safe and effective drugs for rare diseases and we worked hard to review this application quickly; we could not be more pleased to have the first approved treatment for this debilitating disease.”
The FDA worked closely with Ionis Pharmaceuticals, which developed Spinraza, and Biogen, which markets Spinraza, during development to help design and implement the analysis upon which this approval was based. The efficacy of Spinraza was demonstrated in a clinical trial in 121 patients with infantile-onset SMA who were diagnosed before 6 months of age and who were less than 7 months old at the time of their first dose. The trial assessed the percentage of patients with improvement in motor milestones, such as head control, sitting, ability to kick in supine position, rolling, crawling, standing, and walking.
The FDA asked Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Biogen to conduct an interim analysis as a way to evaluate the study results as early as possible. The interim analysis showed that 40% of patients treated with Spinraza achieved improvement in motor milestones, whereas none of the control patients did.
Open-label uncontrolled clinical studies conducted in symptomatic patients, ranging in age from 30 days to 15 years at the time of the first dose, and in presymptomatic patients, ranging in age from 8 days to 42 days at the time of first dose, generally supported the clinical efficacy demonstrated in the controlled clinical trial in infantile-onset patients.
The most common side effects found in participants in the clinical trials on Spinraza were upper respiratory infection, lower respiratory infection, and constipation. Warnings and precautions include low blood platelet count and toxicity to the kidneys (renal toxicity). Toxicity in the nervous system (neurotoxicity) was observed in animal studies.
The FDA granted this application fast track designation and priority review. The drug also received orphan drug designation, which provides incentives to assist and encourage the development of drugs for rare diseases.
See the FDA Announcement
See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication