Cleveland Clinic Neurologist Applauds Mayzent’s FDA Approval, But Surprised by Those It May Not Treat

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the disease-modifying therapy Mayzent for relapsing types of multiple sclerosis, it specified in its label that the treatment was for people with clinically isolated syndrome, relapsing-remitting MS, and — importantly — secondary progressive MS provided they have "active" disease. The approval is good news, an MS researcher and physician said to Multiple Sclerosis News Today in an interview, but "surprising" in that the FDA's decision was largely based on a trial that didn't involve CIS patients and wasn't focused on responses among particular types of SPMS. “It's the first time that I've seen in the MS field that regulators made an approval designation — active secondary progressive MS — based on an underpowered subgroup analysis,” said Robert Fox, MD, a neurologist at the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Cleveland Clinic. Novartis' medication, as a first oral therapy approved in the U.S. for a form of SPMS, is a big step forward in MS treatment, he said. But details of the FDA's decision caught him off guard. Fox served on the steering committee for the EXPAND Phase 3 clinical trial , on which the FDA decision was largely based. His clinic was also one of the sites treating and evaluating patients in this pivotal study. Results of the EXPAND trial showed that Mayzent could reduce the risk of disability progression at three months (the trial’s primary endpoint, or goal) by 21% in treated SPMS patients, compared to those given a placebo. Among those with active SPMS (meaning with relapses), a 33% reduction was observed. The treatment, an S1P modulator that works in part to keep lymphocytes from entering the brain to trigger inflammation, also decreased the annualized relapse rate by 55% and improved cognitive processing speed in all treated patients.  “What was found, and I think quite clearly found in a large-size study, was that siponimod in patients with secondary progressive MS clearly slowed the progression of clinical disability over the course of the trial,” Fox said. “It's a statistical concept — obviously patients either progress or they don't progress — but on an overall basis there was a 21% slowing in the rate of progression of clinical disability.” The FDA’s decision is particularly important for SPMS patients. While Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) also treats all relapsing MS forms and people with primary progressive disease (PPMS), it's an intravenous therapy given every six months. Mavenclad (cladribine), approved for relapsing patients in the U.S. just days after Mayzent, is another oral and active disease therapy. To Fox, Mayzent seemed to reach beyond only those secondary progressive patients with clinically active disease. “Really, this is the only drug that's been found to be effective in secondary progressive MS," he said. “To that degree, it stands alone.” That's why two points in the FDA's decision surprised him. The first is the label's specific mention of clinically isolated syndrome. CIS is defined as the first clinical presentation of this disease — a neurological episode that lasts at least 24 hours, and is characterized by inflammatory demyelination (the loss of myelin, the protective coat surrounding neurons).   For clinicians like Fox, CIS is a first manifestation of MS — a kind of "mono sclerosis." Since there’s only one documented attack, it can’t yet be considered multiple sclerosis, “as the multiple hasn't happened,” Fox said, but many "in the field consider CIS to be … an early stage of MS." “If the patient has a whole bunch of lesions on their brain [as seen on an MRI scan] and they had a single clinical event, ah, probably, they have MS,” he said. Regulatory bodies like the FDA, however, have historically considered CIS to be its own separate entity. That makes this decision doubly surprising, according to Fox, since the EXPAND trial only enrolled patients with SPMS, not CIS.   “It's the first time I've seen them approve for CIS specifically when there wasn't a trial in CIS,” Fox said. “I agree with it — I don't have a problem with it — it just surprised me that the regulators were so progressive in their appreciation of MS.” The second — and far more unsettling — surprise was the FDA’s decision to only approve Mayzent for “active” SPMS patients, instead of all SPMS patients. This decision didn’t come out of nowhere, he noted, but it remains puzzling in the context of the EXPAND trial.  In compiling trial results, investigators did a subgroup analysis — as they often do, almost as an aside for research reasons — and found more favorable responses to Mayzent treatment in patients with active inflammation before the trial's start, those it determined to be with "active" disease.   “There was a third of patients who had a relapse in the two years prior to enrollment, and those patients actually had a 30% slowing in disability progression, compared to the 21% overall,” Fox said. This certainly does suggest that Mayzent can be more effective in people with active disease — but there's a catch. The trial itself was not designed to make such a distinction. It enrolled SPMS patients regardless of activity, and its priority goal was changes in disease progression across all who were treated with Mayzent or given a placebo.   “What's important is that the trial was powered for the overall outcome. It was not powered for subgroup analysis,” Fox said, considering this a crucial point.  In clinical studies, being “powered” refers to the enrolling of whatever specific number of participants a study needs to ensure its results will reach statistical significance. More people are redundant and, as such, an unnecessary cost; fewer could mean that trial's conclusions cannot be supported by rigorous scientific measures.  In other words, Fox said, the only conclusions that can be drawn from the EXPAND study reliably — with rigor — are based on data drawn from all its SPMS patients, not a subgroup with active disease. This trial “followed over 1,600 patients for the clinical disability. These are purposely powered so that you're not following twice as many people as you need to … you're powered for that primary outcome,” he said. “So, how could they [the FDA] look at a subgroup analysis and make an approval decision based on a subgroup analysis that was underpowered?” The neurologist gave as examples other subgroup differences found in trial analyses that didn't affect regulatory approval — but to his mind, equally could have. One was an analysis finding female SPMS patients responded to the therapy better than males, showing lesser disease progression. "So why didn't they just approve it for the females and not the males?" Fox asked. But, when asked, Fox did not think the label to necessarily be an error. "My point is the absurdity of it," he said. "How could they make the regulatory approval based on a subgroup analysis that wasn't powered for conclusions?" He was also particularly troubled because the FDA “didn't define what ‘active’ means — is it just a relapse, or is it MRI disease activity?"  For many clinicians, “active” SPMS refers to ongoing inflammation that can be observed on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. In EXPAND, however, the active subgroup was defined as patients with clinical relapses within two years of being enrolled in the trial. Fox worries about this apparent lack of a regulatory definition of "active" SPMS, since “obviously, the insurance companies are going to seize upon that, and they're going to look for every way they can to avoid covering it for patients.” Mayzent, Fox agreed, is likely to be expensive. The therapy is reported to carry a U.S. list price of $88,500 a year. “I always have a concern about the cost of these drugs. They're all fearfully expensive,” he said, noting he treats SPMS patients. His focus now is on working to ensure that possible regulatory and financial hurdles won’t pose too much of an obstacle for patients, especially those with SPMS. “I don't know what the insurance companies are going to do with this, but I'm hoping that it is available for my patients, and I say that as their clinician,” Fox concluded.

Cladribine Added to Interferon-beta Seen to Lower Relapses in Active MS, But Safety Questioned

Cladribine tablets added to interferon-beta treatment significantly reduced the probability of relapses over 96 weeks in people with active relapsing multiple sclerosis , a Phase 2 clinical trial found. But a troubling diminishment in key immune cells was also seen in treated patients. Relapsing-remitting MS is marked by periods of flares caused by inflammatory attacks, followed by periods of partial or complete recovery . A majority --about 65 percent -- go on to develop secondary progressive MS. Despite the growing number of treatment options — including disease-modifying therapies — for these MS patients, efforts continue into better ways to lower relapse frequency and slow disease progression. Researchers tested the safety and efficacy of cladribine tablets as an add-on therapy in patients continuing to experience active relapses while under interferon-beta treatment. Cladribine is an oral medication that works by selectively targeting and reducing the number of immune cells involved in the inflammatory attacks occurring in active MS. It was developed by EMD Serono (Merck KGaA outside the U.S. and Canada) and approved in the European Union using the brand name Mavenclad (it is not approved in the U.S. for MS). Interferon-beta works by balancing pro- and anti-inflammatory signals, reducing the number of immune cells and promoting the survival of nerve cells. Interferon-beta therapies are marketed under several brand names; in the study, researchers analyzed patients using Rebif (marketed by EMD Serono), Avonex (by Biogen), and Betaseron/Betaferon (by Bayer). The 96-week, randomized, double-blind, Phase 2b trial called ONWARD enrolled a total of 172 patients with active relapsing MS, who were randomly divided into two groups: those given cladribine tablets together with interferon-beta, and those that received a placebo and interferon-beta. Results showed those taking cladribine tablets together with interferon-beta had 63% lower likelihood of a relapse compared to those given an add-on placebo. Add-on cladribine treatment also reduced most measures of disease activity as assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — namely, the number of new brain and spinal cord lesions. However, almost half of patients in this treatment group developed lymphopenia, a condition where the levels of lymphocytes (important immune white blood cells) in the blood are abnormally low. None in the control group developed the condition. Other reported side effects, including other serious adverse side effects, were identical in the two groups. Altogether, the findings indicate that a cladribine and interferon-beta combination can successfully lower the probability of relapses over the course of 96 weeks, but also increase a person's chances of lymphopenia.

Progressive MS Patients with Considerable Disability Ably Treated with Cladribine, UK Case Study Reports

Cladridine may be effective in preventing disability progression and reducing damage to nerve cells in people with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), researchers suggest based on a case study of two such patients given the injectable treatment. MS is characterized by progressive degeneration of cells in the central nervous system, mostly…

#EAN2018 – Mavenclad Greatly Reduces Risk of RRMS Relapse, Analysis Finds

New retrospective analysis of the Phase 3 CLARITY study (NCT00213135) shows that treatment with Mavenclad (cladribine tablets) improved annualized relapse rate and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) outcomes in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), regardless of their age. Moreover, the effectiveness of Mavenclad was comparable to five standard therapies…

Argentina Approves Mavenclad for Active Relapsing MS

Argentina has become the first country in Latin America to approve Mavenclad (cladribine) as a treatment for adults with highly active relapsing multiple sclerosis. The Argentinian Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology's approval covered Merck’s cladribine tablet formulation. Merck expects to make the treatment available in the country in the next few months. Mavenclad has already been approved in Canada, Australia, Israel, and Europe. Merck is seeking approval in the United States and other countries. "Having a new MS treatment approved in Argentina is very motivating," Dr. Jorge Correale of the Institute for Neurological Research Dr. Raúl Carrea said in a press release. "Mavenclad allows the patient's immune system to go through a selective immune reconstitution, similar to a reset, and the treatment mechanism is simple because it does not require frequent administration or monitoring," said Correale, head of the institute's neuroimmunology and demyelinating diseases department. Mavenclad is designed to target the immune T- and B-cells that trigger relapsing MS without suppressing the entire immune system. With a maximum of 20 days' treatment over two years, the oral drug promotes long-term inhibition of harmful immune cells, reconstituting the immune system. MS is an autoimmune disease, or one in which the immune system attacks normal tissue as well as invadors. Argentine regulators based their approval on the results of five clinical trials. These were the Phase 3 CLARITY, CLARITY EXTENSION, and ORACLE-MS studies, the Phase 2 ONWARD study, and the long-term PREMIERE study. These trials involved more than 2,700 patients with relapsing MS, some of whom researchers followed for more than 10 years. The trials showed that Mavenclad can significantly reduce MS relapse rates, disability progression and brain atrophy. The treatment is recommended for patients who fail to respond adequately, or are unable to tolerate, other therapies. "We are pleased the Argentinian Administration of Medicines, Food and Medical Technology has approved Mavenclad," said Rehan Verjee, the chief marketing and strategy officer of Merck's biopharma business. "Our goal is to ensure fast access to patients who may benefit from this innovative therapy, and we will be working with payers on obtaining reimbursement as a next step."

Australia Approves Shorter Mavenclad Treatment Regimen for Relapsing-Remitting MS

Australia has approved a shorter treatment regimen of Merck’s Mavenclad for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. The Therapeutic Goods Administration authorized 20-day courses of the cladribine tablet form of the medication once a year for two years. The regimen reduces relapse rates and the progression of the disease for up to four years, Merck said. The new approval came after Merck submitted additional clinical trial findings on the therapy. Health Canada and the European Commission approved Mavenclad earlier this year. Merck continues to seek its regulatory approval in the United States and other countries. "Mavenclad will be a welcomed treatment option for patients with the relapsing-remitting form of MS,” Bill Carroll, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Western Australia and the Perron Institute, said in a press release. “As an oral therapy taken in two short courses over a two-year period, Mavenclad will be convenient for all eligible patients in Australia, including those who may not live close to their treating healthcare professional," added Carrol, a neurology consultant at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital as well as president-elect of the World Federation of Neurology. Mavenclad targets immune cells that trigger relapsing MS. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, or one in which the immune system attacks healthy cells. Mavenclad inhibits harmful immune T- and B-cells without suppressing the entire immune system. Australia based its approval of the drug on the findings of a number of clinical trials, including the Phase 3 CLARITY, CLARITY EXTENSION and ORACLE-MS studies, the Phase 2 trial ONWARD study, and the long-term PREMIERE studies. The trials involved more than 2,700 RRMS patients, some of whom were followed more than 10 years. The trials showed that Mavenclad can significantly reduce relapse rates, disability progression and brain atrophy. Doctors recommended the therapy for patients who failed to respond to, or are unable to tolerate, other MS treatments. "We are pleased the Therapeutic Goods Administration has updated the product Information for Mavenclad in Australia to reflect additional clinical data," said Simon Sturge, chief operating officer of Merck's biopharma business. "Our next step is to work closely with the Australian government to bring this treatment advance to patients as quickly as possible."

Health Canada Approves Merck’s Mavenclad to Treat RRMS

Canadians with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis can now receive Merck’s Mavenclad, now that Health Canada has approved Mavenclad as a therapy to reduce the frequency of MS exacerbations and delay disease progression. Merck expects the drug to be commercially available by early January 2018 throughout Canada, which has the world's highest MS rate. This follows the drug’s approval by the European Commission in August, making Mavenclad Europe's first approved highly efficient, oral short-course therapy for relapsing MS. Merck said it would seek regulatory approval of Mavenclad in other countries, including the United States. Mavenclad was designed to selectively target immune cells that trigger relapsing MS, while resetting the immune system. With two annual courses of treatment for a maximum of 20 days over two years, the oral drug promotes long-term inhibition of harmful immune T- and B-cells, without continuous suppression of the immune system. Researchers evaluated Mavenclad in five clinical trials: Phase 3 trials CLARITY, CLARITY EXTENSION and ORACLE-MS; the Phase 2 trial ONWARD study ; and the long-term study PREMIERE. These involved more than 2,700 RRMS patients, some of whom were observed for more than 10 years. Clinical data showed that Mavenclad can significantly reduce disability progression, annualized relapse rates and brain atrophy. The treatment is generally recommended for patients who failed to respond adequately, or are unable to tolerate, one or more MS therapies.

European Neurologists Ready to Use Both Mavenclad and Ocrevus, Survey Shows

Mavenclad has become the multiple sclerosis therapy of choice for one in five neurologists in Germany and the United Kingdom, according to a Spherix Global Insights survey. Meanwhile, many European neurologists are looking forward to the continent's approval of Ocrevus, particularly as a treatment for primary progressive multiple sclerosis, or PPMS. The United States approved the therapy in March of 2017. European neurologists are using Mavenclad for both relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, or RRMS, and secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, SPMS. The report that Spherix issued on European neurologists' treatment choices is called "RealTime Dynamix: Multiple Sclerosis EU." It was based on a survey of 261 neurologists, who were asked about thei disease-modifying drugs they prescribed and the way they manage MS, according to a press release. The survey focused on Merck KGaA’s Mavenclad, which the European Union approved in August 2017, and Genentech’s Ocrevus, which the European Commission is expected to approve soon. The European Medicines Agency paved the way for approval by recommending its authorization earlier this month. Mavenclad is the first disease-modifying therapy that most of the patients who are on it have tried, according to the survey. Spherix analysts said this indicates that Mavenclad may expand the proportion of MS patients using disease-modifying drugs. But while Mavenclad’s label allows patients to use it as a first-line therapy, the survey revealed that many neurologists are not comfortable prescribing it as an initial treatment. This suggests that the Mavenclad-treated population may later include more patients who switched treatments, Spherix said. Mavenclad reduces MS relapses by resetting the immune system, studies have shown. Neurologists who prescribe it as a first-line treatment appear to endorse the idea of induction therapy. This approach involves more potent therapies being used from the onset of the disease. British neurologists in particular appear to favor the induction approach, the report revealed. Patients who had been on previous treatments have switched mainly from Copaxone (glatiramer acetate), interferons, or Novartis' Gilenya, the report showed. Many neurologists' lack of familiarity with Mavenclad may be limiting its use, the report said. It noted that two out of five neurologists had not received a detailed briefing on the drug, and more than one-third had not attended any launch activities. Limited market access was the second most common obstacle to Mavenclad prescription, the report indicated. Interestingly, those who had participated in Mavenclad launch activities said these consisted mostly of independent research or discussions with colleagues, rather than activities organized by Mavenclad’s developer Merck KGaA. Spherix’s survey was done just before the European Medicines Agency recommended Ocrevus' approval in mid-November. Even before the endorsement, the survey indicated, Ocrevus was by far the MS drug in development that most neurologists looked forward to using. The reasons, the neurologists said, were its beneficial effectiveness-safety profile, its new mechanism of action, the fact that it only needs to be given once every six months, and a treatment label that includes PPMS. It is the first disease-modifying drug ever approved for PPMS patients. Twice as many neurologists said they look forward to using Ocrevus as a first-line treatment for PPMS as those saying they wanted to use it as a first-line treatment for relapsing MS. And neurologists estimated that twice as many PPMS patients as RRMS patients are appropriate candidates for Ocrevus treatment. In a report in October about U.S. neurologists' treatment preferences, Spherix said those doctors estimated the number of PPMS Ocrevus candidates at three times that of RRMS patients. Nonetheless, about equally as many PPMS and RRMS patients had tried Ocrevus four months after its launch, the survey showed. The European situation may evolve in a similar manner, since the European Medicines Agency recommended a specific use of Ocrevus in PPMS patients. It specified that the drug be used in PPMS patients who show “imaging features characteristic of inflammatory activity." This makes it likely that only a subgroup of PPMS patients will receive the treatment. The use of Biogen's Tysabri, Gilenya, and Rituxan (rituximab), also made by Roche's Genentech subdivision, will be most impacted by Ocrevus' introduction. Despite this, neurologists believe rituximab's use will grow in the next six months, because Ocrevus is still not available, while lower-cost rituximab biosimilars are.

Mavenclad Improves Relapsing MS Patients’ Quality of Life, Independent U.K. Study Finds

Merck’s Mavenclad tablets significantly improve quality of life among relapsing multiple sclerosis patients while reducing the number of relapses, according to new analyses of previously unpublished data from clinical trials assessing the drug. This new data, published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, come just as the European Commission ponders whether to approve the once- rejected therapy to treat relapsing forms of MS. Its decision is expected later this month, seven years after a perceived increased of cancer risk led the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to block Mavenclad. In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the medication, forcing its eventual withdrawal from the Australian and Russian markets, where it had already been licensed. For the study, researchers at Queen Mary University of London used data obtained from the EMA through a Freedom of Information request. They analyzed data from the Phase 3 CLARITY trial, which compared Mavenclad to placebo. The trial's 1,326 participants completed a quality-of-life questionnaire that focused on disease aspects such as mobility, self-care, usual activities, pain or discomfort, and anxiety. After two years, those on Mavenclad had significantly improved their quality of life compared to the control group, particularly in terms of self-care. Mavenclad also helped mobility, which might be related to its ability to prevent relapses and delay progression, researchers said. While researchers assessed quality of life using two different questionnaires, patients had only completed one in sufficient numbers to allow for a solid analysis. The other quality-of-life tool provided researchers with numerically positive results, but the low number of responses made the result difficult to interpret. This wasn't the first time QMUL researchers have contributed in this way to knowledge of Mavenclad in MS. In 2015, they used a Freedom of Information request to obtain data showing that Mavenclad was not related to increased cancer risk. “Cladribine seemed to have such excellent potential as a treatment for MS that we thought it was tragic the development program was shelved, and significant parts of the clinical trial data remained unpublished,” study leader Klaus Schmierer, a neurologist at both QMUL and Barts Health NHS Trust, said in a press release. “In addition to the drug being highly effective, well tolerated and safe as far as short-term studies can show, we now know it also improves patients’ quality of life. The new results seemed so clear, we felt it was extremely important to publish and share these data." Mavenclad has now been studied in some 2,700 patients with relapsing MS in the Phase 3 trials CLARITY, CLARITY EXTENSION, and ORACLE-MS, as well as the Phase 2 ONWARD trial, and the ongoing long-term study PREMIERE. The treatment differs from most other oral MS therapies in that a short treatment course — a maximum 20 days — triggered effects that were upheld for two years. Studies of Mavenclad’s mechanisms suggest the drug gets such results by resetting the immune system. In June 2017, the EMA's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use urged the European Commission to approve Mavenclad. Merck also plans to seek U.S. approval for its therapy and is now in talks with the FDA about Mavenclad's future.