I am re-releasing an older video I did with a new somewhat tighter look and some upgraded language (words I never liked when I originally released it). Essentially, nothing has changed in 6 years since 2011 to 2017. Radicava was approved for use in the USA, but it only works in very recently diagnosed patients and only for about a year. I classify it with Rilutek as a medication with a rather modest effectiveness. No truly effective and approved treatment exists yet for ALS.
And PALS are still being forced to make the terrifying and grisly choice between bankrupting their families merely for the privilege of living or just accepting a rapidly accelerated death where one morning their children or spouses would find them cold, pale, and never to wake again. Everything is covered by Medicare except the people required for being close by for the inevitable situation of something happening with the ventilator – normal moisture or mucus buildup, the air hose popping off, or something drastic going wrong with the machine – any of which mean death in minutes. Immediate family CANNOT be caregivers because the stress is just too great already. The health consequences would splinter a family at a time when being close together is the most important.
It is despicable that even when new treatment options which promise significant extension of life for PALS that they may be unable to enjoy that gift with their families.
Hello and welcome back to the ericvalor.org Blogcast Podcast.
My name is Eric Valor and I will be your host for this episode. Please make yourselves comfortable and feel free to order something from the bar.
As my longtime readers know, this is not a political blogcast. The scope of this blogcast is limited to the subject of ALS, living with the disease, research into treatments for ALS, experiences of Person(s) with ALS (PALS), and my personal reflections. I routinely deny requests to “guest blog” general health subjects (also because they are just attempts to spread spam links). But I have to address a subject which affects 17% of our entire economy and the daily lives of 99% of our citizens, and has devastating implications for PALS and others similarly affected by severe conditions. That subject is the long-awaited Republican response to the Patient Affordable Healthcare Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act or more colloquially Obamacare.
On Thursday, June 23rd, 2017, the Republican Senate Majority Leader released a “discussion draft” of their supposedly “better” healthcare plan which was promised to lower medical costs and improve medical care for American citizens, and “rescue” us all from the “disaster” of Obamacare. Just like the ridiculous House bill (which Paul Ryan apparently hurriedly cobbled together over a long weekend), the Senate Better Care Reconciliation Act snatches access to healthcare from, and makes it much more expensive for, tens of millions of Americans. We waited 7 years for this? I call it the anti-healthcare bill.
Republicans incessantly whined for 7 years about how terrible Obamacare was, how they had “a much better plan”, how the ACA was “passed in secret with no hearings, input from Republicans or the public, and was written behind closed doors. Actually it was available online for a year for public comment, had over 100 hearings, and included over 100 Republican amendments. After all that time this embarrassment on paper is the best they can come up with? This naked frontal assault on the poor and middle-class WILL LITERALLY KILL ME and others with ALS and other deadly conditions – all to give around $1 TRILLION to the already-hyper-wealthy. Moreover, it was literally written in complete secrecy behind closed doors (in such secrecy that one of the supposed authors of the bill never saw it until today) and will have no hearings with less than 10 hours of debate and amendments before a vote is called about a week from now. Undoubtedly Senator Tortoise McGee wants to rush this vote before senators go on recess and get an earful from constituents.
Obamacare is NOT “failing” (as Republicans ludicrously tried to proclaim even before ACA went into effect). The reality of the situation is that tens of millions more Americans have access to affordable healthcare. Medical bills are the number 1 cause of bankruptcy in America. And that comes from a lack of insurance.
The ACA is only “failing” in those states which intentionally refused to cooperate with the Medicaid expansion where the federal government paid 100% of the costs for 3 years and thereafter covered 90%. These same states also refused to set up state exchanges, forcing residents onto the federal one. No wonder they have problems – and all just so Republican governors and legislatures wanted to score political points at the expense of their citizens. People may try to say this is just partisan finger-pointing but unfortunately for their view it’s also true. In the states which cooperated and implemented the provisions of the ACA it’s working out wonderfully.
The ACA in its final form was not designed to lower medical costs because that was negotiated out of the bill by Republicans and Pharma lobbyists. But it did, in fact, reduce the rate at which America’s healthcare expenditures increased, and it created significant affordable relief for tens of millions who would otherwise continue without care until forced to show up in the ER with a catastrophic condition. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
“First, the BCRA will cut hundreds of billions of dollars of Federal funding from the Medicaid program by instituting per capita caps and optional block grants. Medicaid is a critical lifeline to millions of individuals with rare diseases across the United States. … State programs for Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers (1915 waivers) may also be jeopardized due to financial constraints.
Second, the BCRA … would phase out Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 and concluding in 2024, likely leaving many individuals with rare diseases without health insurance.
Third, the BCRA does not adhere to several of our principles relating to prohibiting discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions. … [The BCRA] would still bring back annual and lifetime limits and limitless out-of-pocket costs by allowing states to amend the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) through section 1332 waivers. These vital protections … would therefore be removed if a state opts out via a 1332 waiver.
Finally, the BCRA does nothing to incentivize healthy individuals to enter the individual market and help stabilize premiums by offsetting the cost of more expensive individuals.”
I would also like to quote Judith Stein, the Executive Director for the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA):
“Never in 40 years of Medicare & Health care advocacy have I witnessed the kind of secrecy, and determination to take away health coverage we are witnessing today. A health care bill would strengthen coverage and delivery programs. This bill gratuitously weakens Medicare, decimates Medicaid, and guts insurance for over 20 million people.”
According to CMA, the BCRA includes:
The end of Medicaid expansion: Millions will lose coverage.
Medicaid per capita caps: Cuts would actually deepen over time.
Repeal of Medicare tax increase: Undermines Medicare’s finances.
This is a statement I added to a change.org petition calling for a “Medicare for All” program:
“I am currently living only because of Medicare and Medicaid. I have Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and used to be a top-10% wage earner. The disease forced me into bankruptcy slightly before I was even middle-aged. The United States is the wealthiest country in global history, and we have much more than enough taxation right now to pay for guaranteed healthcare. Medicare functions at a much higher efficiency than any other private for-profit insurance, because it doesn’t have a powerful incentive to maximize profit by denying me the services I paid for. Even with “Medicare for all” as a basic level of healthcare, there is still plenty of market left-over for private insurance for things like elective procedures.
It’s time for our public tax dollars to be applied toward services for the public, not for the enrichment of some private corporation. The last year has seen a massive awakening in public attention toward healthcare. If you are not aware of this by now, it’s because you are not paying attention to the voices of your constituents. But we are, and are very much aware of your actions (or lack thereof).”
Please consider signing the petition. It’s not likely to be successful by itself but it will show Congress that there is significant resistance to the GOP plan and that the right move is to actually expand Medicare in order to ensure the right of healthcare for all citizens.
The BCRA is a hideous piece of legislation that severely jeopardizes the poor, the elderly, and the handicapped like me. It’s basically a tax cut for the hyper-wealthy that is paid for by the suffering and death, yes death, of people coping with ALS and other deadly conditions that were stricken through no fault of their own. It’s a serious threat to my life and the lives of many of my friends. That required me to make this political statement.
Thank you for watching and please vote carefully and diligently in 2018. It can change lives in a major way. In the meantime, please contact your senators immediately and urge them to vote “No” on the BCRA. Until next time, keep breathing easy.
My name is Eric Valor and today I have a few different subjects to cover. I will cover the new ALS treatment recently approved by the FDA, the latest message from Hope Now For ALS, MAGIC in yeast cells, and trouble for stem cell therapies.
But first, I would like to make a personal announcement. Some of you may already know this, but I was recently accepted to the Academy of Neurology as a researcher. It’s not a huge deal but it’s nevertheless something I am proud to have on my CV.
Now, to business. My first item on the board is the first drug to be approved for ALS in 22 years.
In May of 2017, the FDA approved edaravone, also called Radicut or Radicava, for use in the United States. Edaravone was developed and originally approved for use in Japan in 2001 for protection from the effects of a type of stroke. Its MOA, or method of action, is as a scavenger of free radicals. These molecules have an unpaired electron in one of their atoms, making them extremely reactive with other molecules. The radicals at subject are called reactive oxygen species or ROS, produced as a byproduct of the mitochondria creating energy for the motor neurons. These molecules, when not properly controlled, cause significant damage to cellular structures. There have been many attempts to eliminate these ROSs as a treatment for ALS, but all previous attempts have failed.
There are some side effects resembling allergic reactions, from redness and itching up to anaphylaxis, which requires immediate emergency medical assistance or the person can perish). The incidence of serious adverse effects (SAEs) was low, with the most common, dysphagia or difficulty swallowing, occurring in 12% of patients. Milder adverse events occurred at the same rate as placebo.
The dosing regimen is 14 days of one infusion per day of 100 milliliters administered over one hour followed by 14 days with no infusions. Subsequent cycles are 10 days of infusions followed by 14 days without. Edaravone showed up to 33% slower progression in patients who were fewer than 2 years post-diagnosis, were still ambulatory, and could still feed, dress, and bathe themselves. Three out of four clinical trials of edaravone for ALS failed to meet clinical endpoints, but the fourth, when restricted to the PALS described previously, met its endpoints. What that means is that it seems effective only in people very early on in progression.
The second item on the agenda is the recent update which Hope NOW for ALS posted about its activity. On May 10, 2017, HNFA released a statement describing their May 1, 2017 meeting with key officials at FDA CDER. The statement also mentioned the approval of Radicava and how it is the first drug approved to treat ALS in 22 years. The main point of the HNFA statement was to indicate willingness by the FDA to consider updated clinical trial methods to make clinical trials more accurate and humane. It’s a hopeful message and indicates, along with the new approval of a treatment for ALS, that the FDA may be really changing how it sees and deals with life-threatening or fatal conditions.
Third, the ALZ Forum has a nice article on mitochondria making MAGIC. In a study published in the March 1st edition of Nature, a team from Johns Hopkins University describe mitochondria in yeast cells untangling misfolded cellular proteins before tearing them apart for recycling the components. The process was termed “mitochondria as guardian in cytosol” or MAGIC. Aggregated or misfolded proteins which become tangled in each other are known to be torn apart in cellular machinery called proteasomes. Without mechanisms for breaking down these aggregated proteins they would clog the entire cell like the white of a boiled egg. You can see the same process happen as you fry your breakfast in the morning. That would be very bad for the cell and ultimately us.
In MAGIC, these same aggregated proteins are imported into the intermembrane area, a small space between the outer and inner membranes of the mitochondria. There the proteins are untangled from each other, then passed into the inner mitochondria where the individual proteins are chopped up. When heat shock proteins in the cytosol of the cell aren’t working properly this puts more stress on the mitochondria which are already very hard at work creating energy for the neuron. Think of it like hauling a heavy trailer up a mountain road in your car. Your engine strains under the load, getting hotter and pumping more smoke out of the tailpipe. The “smoke” from the mitochondria is the ROSs. The authors further reported that this process also happens in human cells. If those holds true then it would tie together two critical factors of neurodegenerative disease: protein aggregation and mitochondrial dysfunction. That’s would be an important finding as it would further elucidate the mystery of ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
In another story, again from the ALZ Forum, it appears that significant efficacy differences exist between clinical-grade stem cell lines and their research-grade counterparts. The differences may explain why some clinical trials fail. Two studies in the February 14 edition of Stem Cell Reports (study 1 and study 2) suggest that the outcomes could have been anticipated if the production lines were animal-tested the same way as in preclinical studies. The two subject studies looked at the unsuccessful trials by StemCells Inc. of spinal injury treatment using neural precursor cells. The company reported that the cells remyelination and motor recovery in mice with spinal injury.
But in two different trials with the same cells expanded using the Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) standard, required for production for use in humans, the cells failed to demonstrate efficacy. When the same lines were later tested in mice for the subject studies, they matured at about half the rate as the research-grade cells and largely remained as undifferentiated clumps. In one study about 4 percent of the grafted cells continued to divide and in some cases extended neurites into the surrounding tissue. Obviously injecting undifferentiated stem cells is a very bad idea and no two stem cell lines are identical. Together these studies provide strong evidence for preclinical testing of clinical-grade cells prior to use in humans.
Finally, another announcement: Beginning with this podcast (and retroactively back to the prior podcast) the video portion will be included at the bottom of the transcript. This will make viewing easier for my blog readers.
Thank you for reading and/or viewing. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any questions, and subscribe to get a notice in your email whenever a new episode is published. Until then, keep breathing easy!
I am the world’s first fully-functional cyborg! Need proof? My part in this Reply All podcast starts at 16:35.
This interview took place over about 3 weeks including one live telephone call and approximately 40 questions over email to which I replied both with text and individual MP3 files of the audio of my computer speaking each answer. It was a rather interesting experience and one that would certainly come in handy for any future interviews. Sruthi Pinnamaneni and Rick Kwan did a great job of stitching all of the questions and answers together to make a single coherent interview.
My desire was to demonstrate that life goes on after diagnosis and that there is still PLENTY that someone can still do despite full paralysis and being dependent on a ventilator. Hopefully other more newly-diagnosed PALS listening to the podcast can take a little inspiration to keep living and contributing your individual wonderful gifts to the world. Together, our voices are amplified and we can create the change we want to happen in the world.
On Thursday, September 22, 2016, Neuraltus Pharmaceuticals announced the commencement of their long-anticipated Phase 2B for their lead candidate NP001. NP001 is a molecule that reverts macrophages (white blood cells) from an activated state where they hunt down and destroy pathogens and injured tissue to a calmer state where they nurture and protect other cells. I have blogged about NP001 extensively in the past. This trial follows up their Phase 2A trial which completed a few years ago. Unfortunately many of the participants in that trial are no longer with us, including my friends Rob Tison and Ben Harris with whom I launched the concurrent Oral Sodium Chlorite Project.
I encourage all PALS to use the Clinical Trials tool on my website, provided by our friends at Antidote. It is very important that this trial is fully enrolled as soon as possible so that it is quickly completed and NP001 gets a shot at getting on the market. That is the best chance for it to get to ALL the PALS whose lives could be extended. We did it for the Phase 2A and can do it again for the Phase 2B.
This is a very exciting moment in the history of ALS.
As most of you know, I started SciOpen Research Group as a way for me to be able to fire actual bullets in the battle against ALS (well, actually metaphorical, but you get the idea). Our first project failed to extend life in the classic ALS mouse model so we retained the money raised to conduct the planned second part of that experiment. We had another project already in the research pipeline waiting to take the next step in development. For two years SRG was working on creating a novel molecule which would treat the desired pathway without becoming toxic like the reference molecule does at therapeutic doses. Suddenly we had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers already investigating the same pathway, albeit in different conditions (watch the video announcement), with their own library of candidate molecules.
Our collaboration’s first phase is to create a novel transgenic mouse species which represents a 100% drug efficacy in order to be a proof of concept. The project should run through the last half of 2016. As you will see below, a study was recently published which shows that SRG is definitely onto something. Our target protein is significantly elevated in human patients, and that targeting it brings positive results. The study is great indirect support of our project’s goal.
And now, the guest blog featuring myself!
Good News For Our Latest Project!
A recent report published in Science magazine strongly suggests that SciOpen Research Group is onto something with its currently ongoing study of necroptosis in ALS. Necroptosis is a “cousin” of apoptosis. In contrast to apoptosis, which happens regularly in the body, necroptosis is a form of programmed cell death which happens under inflammatory conditions and in which the components of the dead cell spill into the extracellular space. The spilling of the cellular components trigger a response in which immune cells are recruited to the area. Necroptosis is known to be a driver of both genetic ALS and sporadic ALS.
The subject study is not a direct support, in that it was looking at how the optineurin protein contributes to ALS. However, the results showed significant increase of the MLKL protein in human patients and that elimination of the RIPK3 protein or inhibition of RIPK1 had modest but nevertheless positive effects on survival of the SOD1 mice (along with positive biological evidence). This suggests that SRG is on the right track with its MLKL study. We believe that acting on MLKL will have a stronger effect without disrupting other cellular functions which depend on RIPK3 and/or RIPK31 (MLKL is involved only in necroptosis).
This study is YOUR study. It would not be position without your support. SciOpen Research Group is the world’s first fully functional “guerilla biotech”. We function only with your support and study pathways other research organizations either miss or ignore. And we can do it for much less because we are purely volunteer and have no overhead. 100% of your donations go directly to research. To support us you can make a tax-deductible donation (USA residents only) by going to our Donations page, purchase some SRG Gear, and/or go shopping on Amazon Smile and name SciOpen Research Group as your charity of choice (we are a registered and approved nonprofit under IRS 501c3). We work on ALS for you, the ALS Community, because we are part of the ALS Community. Help us continue our novel research into eradicating ALS.
I may have to revise my opinion of masitinib (which would not upset me in the slightest). Some of my readers may know that I have not been very optimistic about the probability of the drug being an effective treatment option for ALS. It’s been around for some time as a veterinary drug. But the company AB Science is developing it for ALS and other conditions.
Preclinical information appears encouraging, although the study has a few issues. The rat model is not like the mouse model and is not very suitable for a survival study. The survival data are also very difficult to interpret due to the curious use of different numbers of animals in each cohort. I will defer to the opinions of my more statistics-inclined members (please feel free to comment!). The cellular data have a similar issue because they were taken in vitro rather than vivo. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging and we can hope for quick human trials.
“There are two things people take for granted every day: Time and health. When you lose those, then you wake up.”
— Joost van der Westhuizen
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa. That same year, South Africa also hosted the Rugby World Cup. In that tournament, the home team, the Springboks, overcame considerably unfavorable odds and decades of international isolation (due to the government’s policy of apartheid) to win the Rugby World Cup. This is widely considered one of the greatest moments of South African sporting history and was the basis for the 2009 film Invictus. On that team was a young scrum-half named Joost van der Westhuizen.
In 2003 Joost retired from rugby. By then he was a superstar of South African rugby, having more caps than any other South African player. In 2011 the rugby world suffered a blow with the news that Joost had been diagnosed with ALS. Rather than retreat from the world, Joost decided to make a difference in the lives of people also coping with this dread diagnosis. He formed the J9 Foundation to educate the general public and medical practitioners about ALS, grow ALS research in South Africa, and to aid other South African PALS.
Joost’s story has been made into a documentary called “Glory Game“. In addition to the trailer, you can read about the movie here. The film has done well in South Africa and is now going to be shown first in Vancouver, British Columbia, on April 10, 2016 and in Los Angeles, California, on April 15, 2016. I urge all my friends in those areas to go see it. I have seen it and it’s simultaneously hilarious, upsetting, and uplifting. It shows the courage and determination which made Joost van der Westhuizen such a force on the rugby pitch. I am proud to call him and the Director of the film, Odette Schwegler, my friends.
Usually a new hole in your stomach is bad news, often being either an ulcer or the result of some sort of violence. But for some, properly done, it’s a way to keep fed if the more normal method is no longer available. The question then is what to put through the hole. Obviously it would need to be in liquid form, but one can’t live just on beer alone (and I have tried…). Thankfully, there is a much better alternative.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a disease outwardly characterized by loss of muscular strength. People coping with diagnosis (PALS – Person(s) with ALS) experience a progressive loss of muscular control as the nerves communicating brain commands to those muscles die. Eventually a specific muscle, the diaphragm, becomes weakened and breathing capacity is diminished. After progressive weakening of the diaphragm, breathing capacity diminishes to the point that blood carbon dioxide levels rise and the person dies of respiratory failure.
Although no two PALS experience the same progression pattern (I call us “Snowflakes From Hell”), usually another important – yet overlooked – muscle group is impacted before the diaphragm. This muscle group is commonly known as the tongue. When the back of the tongue loses strength, it can no longer efficiently create the pre-swallow bolus made up of the food being chewed and it can also no longer guard the airway against intrusion of food below the mouth before the epiglottis closes the trachea and opens the esophagus. This creates a choking situation with the increased possibility of aspiration pneumonia. Obviously both the choking and pneumonia represent substantial threats to life, especially for those with compromised respiratory function. Not only are choking and aspiration both hazards, but the lack of proper nutrition from not being able to eat is a dire handicap in the battle against ALS.
Fortunately for people in such a situation of lingual weakness, such as PALS in mid and late stages, medical science has created the PEG tube. This is a silicone rubber tube a little larger around than your typical drinking straw. It provides a direct route to the stomach and can dramatically lower one’s bar bill (because you don’t taste, you can switch from top-shelf to well brands…). PEG tubes are actually essential tools in “treatment” of ALS by keeping up optimum nutritional (including caloric) content.
Unfortunately, the “medical formulas” many patients are told to exclusively use – such as Nestle COMPLEAT – are based almost entirely on corn syrup for calories, which is the glucose base version of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS – the difference between the two is that HFCS is much sweeter, thus being attractive to processed food manufacturers). Basically, each can is a candy bar with a multivitamin in the middle. We have all heard the news about the perils of excessive sugar intake and how it, in the form of HFCS, is pervasive in processed foods. Eliminating HFCS and still eating just as much glucose sugar, especially as a sole source of calories, is equally harmful.
As I have previously blogged, using these medical formulas for any prolonged period is very risky in terms of your pancreas. I am an otherwise extremely healthy [formerly] athletic man with zero endocrine or any other confounding health issues. Nevertheless, using the traditional “medical formula” every day for two years put me in the ICU for a few days with a severe diabetic and hepatic crisis. I took control of my treatment plan and eliminated the corn syrup by switching from formula to real food (something which hospital dieticians tell patients to NOT do).
Clearly, the traditional enteral nutrition sources are not meant for long-term use. Until recently, most PALS died relatively shortly after diagnosis. This meant a few months of solely enteral nutrition weren’t going to pose a problem. But now, with better care and with adaptive technology better able to restore lost abilities, PALS are living longer post-diagnosis. I am one of those, going past 10 years post-diagnosis. Obviously better nutritional products are required. After taking personal control of my feeding, choosing fresh food blended together with a combination of healthy sources of fat, my blood glucose, liver, and kidney functions all normalized.
Not all PALS have either the ability to make their own blenderized food (is that really a word?) or have people who can make food for them which meets their nutritional and caloric needs. Just opening a can of soup is insufficient, as almost all processed food contains unacceptable levels of sodium, HFCS, etc. Further, PALS have certain requirements such as higher fat and calories. Getting those from improper sources can be hazardous. So what can we do?
Liquid Hope is here! This is a product created as a reaction to the terrible content of the traditional formula and the negative effect on health they can have. It is basically fresh food in a pouch that meets the needs of those with special dietary concerns (dairy free, gluten free, non-GMO, etc.). It’s a full meal replacement suitable for PALS as-is, but can be mixed with avocado, coconut oil, or other healthy fat source to boost calories for those PALS experiencing dramatic weight loss. My readers can learn more about the development of Liquid Hopehere.
Even though I was getting mostly fresh food, I was interested in trying out Liquid Hope. The good people at Functional Formularies agreed to supply me a 7 day supply. From the very first meal I felt great! I was fully satisfied as if I had just had a good meal at our local vegetarian restaurant (I really miss their vegetarian lasagna). After 48 hours, I had more than my usual energy, I felt clear, and I was much more regular (constipation is a frequent issue for PALS). I only added a couple tablespoons of coconut oil along with some protein and vitamin additives, like I do all my meals. I was really sad to see the last pouch go down.
In my semi-expert opinion, Liquid Hope is a fantastic enteral nutrition solution and far superior to the usual cans of “medical formula”. I am greatly looking forward to switching fully to Liquid Hope for my nutritional needs. It’s now covered by Medicare*, Functional Formularies can help with the paperwork, and my first regular shipment is on its way!
I have been watching and talking about Liquid Hope on social media for a while. Frequent readers and friends know that I am extremely anti-“medical formula” and push patients to make fresh food for their enteral nutritional needs. Now that Liquid Hope is covered by Medicare* and is provided by a growing network of enteral nutrition providers, I call on all PALS to try it and use it. Let Nestle make snacks, not food staples. PALS have a serious medical condition requiring real nutrition. Take care of yourselves. Either blend fresh (not freshly-opened) food or use an organic and healthy product such as Liquid Hope.
* [So long as you aren’t in what’s known as a competitive bid area. The problem with being in one, in my opinion, is that the reimbursement to providers is based purely on lowest-price, keeping the better products from being available. I can explain the political aspects but that’s an entirely different subject not appropriate for this blog.]
I am a little peeved at a new attack on the push for FDA’s Accelerated Approval Program for the ALS treatment called GM6 (known as GM604 in clinical trials). This attack basically follows the same line as the one from the ALS Association (and in fact incorporated it by reference). Both are sloppy and disingenuous in style and content. They attempt false comparison to other previously-failed trials without including the reasons for those previous failures and they also try a very clumsy smear by comparison to an act of intentional clinical fraud. I am disappointed that such comparisons are presented to a public looking for facts as well as hope.
First let me discuss the false comparison to previous trial:
The comparisons are false primarily because the old trials exclusively used the ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS) which is a horrible metric by even the most generous interpretation. This is the only way a call for large trials can be justified, because the numb insensitivity of the ALSFRS (even the Revised version) requires such to make any kind of meaningful conclusion in a heterogeneous disease like ALS. However, the GM6 trial used several biomarker candidates and other objective clinical measurements as surrogate end-points (keep that phrase in mind) which correlated which the subjective end-points such as the ALSFRS-R. The biomarkers used were suggested and evaluated by Dr. Robert Bowser, a 2015 winner of the Sheila Essey Award for significant research contributions to fighting ALS.
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), one of the neurotrophic factors listed in Dr. Dickie’s post, doesn’t cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). It’s almost impossible to get a therapeutic dose into the patient without an intrathecal infusion (directly into spine) using a pump over time. This has numerous obvious drawbacks. It’s also very unclear whether a single neurotrophic factor is useful in ALS, which encompasses a host of deficiencies.
Cilliary Neurotrophic Factor (CNTF) does cross the BBB and early animal model tests indicated efficacy. However, two human trials in 1996 using subcutaneous delivery and intrathecal delivery as well as a review in 2004 revealed no efficacy in lower doses and serious side-effects at high doses. It’s also important to note that the animal data came well before the excellent work ALSTDI did characterizing the extreme difficulties in using that model. Any ALS mouse data released prior to 2009 (and any subsequent found to not strictly follow those guidelines) should be considered suspect. I have personal knowledge of the difficulty in using this model and the false-positive data which can result from improper use.
Next, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) also crosses the BBB but has a very very short biological half-life, meaning it is broken down and excreted in a matter of hours. That makes therapeutic levels almost impossible to maintain. A form was created with a buffering agent attached to IGF-1 which roughly doubled the half-life but even that was woefully inadequate. Anyone who remembers the IPLEX debacle of a few years ago knows the story.
The comparisons to such single-target neurotrophic factors as BDNF, CNTF, and IGF-1 are therefore flawed in logic and fact. It is very disingenuous for Dr. Dickie to compare GM6 to them as GM6 is a master regulator and acts in 12 relevant pathways simultaneously. This information is already in the public domain freely available for anyone to look up.
Next, Dr. Dickie compares the GM6 results with those of the initial results of NP001 (actually he links to his own blog post where he addresses the anecdotal reports which came before the official results were published). What he failed to mention was the updated post-hoc analysis which showed a halt of disease progression in 27% of patients in the trial. Further, the analysis showed statistically significant evidence of two biomarkers which identified responding sub-groups. This is a tremendous achievement in ALS clinical trial history. Unfortunately the biomarkers aren’t the same in the GM6 trial so the comparison of the two is incomplete at best. The only real similarity is that both trials used biomarkers as secondary end-points. However, the GM6 trial used them in a way that didn’t require post-hoc analysis.
The comparison with lithium is especially troubling. First, it was far from “recent”, with patient excitement starting in 2007. You can find the data collected in the first PALS-led and created clinical trial which coincidentally also involved lithium. What both ALSA and MNDA failed to report about the study which started the excitement (“Fornai, et al., 2008”) was that the study essentially “cooked the books” by assigning PALS with slow progression of disease to the treatment group while putting the more standard PALS in the placebo group. This was revealed only after the paper was published. In the GM6 trial, run by two leading and internationally well-respected ALS researchers and clinicians, all participants were randomly assigned to receive either drug or placebo. The only way the comparison to the lithium study would be accurate is if the researchers deliberately placed certain patients in each cohort. Genervon merely supplied GM6. The trial was run and data collected by the two principle investigators (fancy name for doctors who run clinical trials). The analysis was then also done by a contract research facility. So any implication that Genervon somehow fabricated the data is false and besmirches the reputations of two prominent ALS doctors.
It must be noted and repeated that the standard FDA clinical trial practice is indeed extremely important in terms of protecting the public from the unscrupulous. The collection of objective scientific data is the foundation of good medical care. Nobody calling for the Accelerated Approval of GM6 disputes this. However, because ALS is so rapidly and uniformly fatal, we are calling for FDA to utilize the discretion it was granted in the face of an earlier similar crisis (the AIDS epidemic). Further, we call on everyone to realize that the GM6 trial used much more than the ALSFRS as a metric and thus smaller trial populations are much more statistically significant than before. The other end-points used in the Phase 2 are objective and not subject to placebo effect. Therefore, the indication of efficacy observed in the trial should be considered stronger than in previous trials which relied almost solely on the ALSFRS.
The Accelerated Approval Program was created to bridge the gap between the need for data and the urgent unmet needs of patients with rapidly-fatal diseases. The GM6 trial was unique in the strength of the preliminary efficacy signal, largely due to the objective biomarker end-points used. Just like the early days AIDS crisis, PALS have no meaningful treatment options and thus no hope. We want to use the very FDA program created to deal with that situation. We admit the need for more scientific data. But we don’t want to die while it’s collected.