Two FDA Panel Members Resign Over Alzheimer’s Drug Approval

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Two members of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Advisory Committee have resigned following the agency’s approval of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab (Aduhelm, Biogen/Eisai), against the committee’s recommendation.

One of the advisory panel members is David Knopman, MD, a clinical neurologist from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was excluded from participating on the committee for the aducanumab meeting because of his involvement in clinical trials of the drug, and who is a known critic of aducanumab.

“I have been previously honored to serve on the committee as I believed the FDA Advisory committees provided valuable input to the FDA and to the public, Knopman told Medscape Medical News.

“I understand that the advisory committees are just that – advisory — but, the whole saga of the approval of aducanumab, from the biased questions posed to the committee on Nov 6, 2020 at the public hearing to the announcement of the accelerated approval 2 days ago, was deeply disrespectful to the committee members and denigrated their role.

“I don’t wish to be part of an advisory committee in the future and be treated as my colleagues were who served on the aducanumab advisory committee,” he added.

In a paper published late last year in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, a group led by Knopman concluded that “aducanumab’s efficacy as a treatment for the cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease cannot be proven by clinical trials with divergent outcomes.”

Earlier today, it was reported Joel Perlmutter, MD, Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, also had resigned because the drug’s approval had come without additional consultation with the advisory committee.

The FDA approved aducanumab for the treatment of Alzheimer’s earlier this week.  But last November, the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee voted eight to one against approving the drug because, based on clinical trial results, evidence of efficacy was not strong enough. Two other members said they were uncertain on the issue of efficacy.

Two phase 3 clinical trials (ENGAGE and EMERGE) evaluating the drug, an anti-amyloid-beta human monoclonal antibody, were stopped in early 2019 because of futility. Biogen said at the time that the studies were unlikely to meet their primary endpoints.

However, a few months later, Biogen and Eisai announced that a new analysis showed the drug met its primary endpoint of reduction in clinical decline, including cognition and function, in the EMERGE trial. Although ENGAGE still didn’t meet its primary endpoint, data from its new analysis “supported” the EMERGE findings, the drug companies said.

However, the FDA’s advisory panel were not impressed with the data, voting against approval. 

As reported by Medscape Medical News three members of the committee elaborated on their decision in a Viewpoint published in JAMA saying there was “no persuasive evidence to support approval of aducanumab at this time.”

There is no reason to favor the trial with the positive signal in 1 of 2 treatment groups over the trial with the negative outcome in both treatment groups,” they noted.

The FDA approved aducanumab under its accelerated approval pathway, which can be used to fast track a drug that provides a meaningful therapeutic advantage over existing treatments for a serious or life-threatening illness.

However, under this pathway, the FDA requires Biogen to conduct a new randomized, controlled clinical trial to verify the drug’s clinical benefit.

The FDA said the approval was based on three separate double-blind, randomized, dose-ranging studies in a total of 3382 patients with Alzheimer’s, in which those receiving the active drug had a significant dose- and time-dependent reduction of beta amyloid plaque, while those in the control group had no reduction in amyloid.

In a statement, the FDA said accelerated approval can be based on the drug’s effect on a surrogate endpoint that is “reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit to patients.” 

However, at the advisory committee meeting last November, FDA officials said they were not considering approving aducanumab based on a surrogate endpoint, and panelists were not asked to evaluate that approach.

At the committee meeting, Perl­mut­ter suggested approving aducanumab without the required efficacy data could lead to delays in finding a tru­ly ef­fec­tive treat­ment.

 ”Alzheimer’s treat­ment is a huge, ur­gent, un­met need, but I al­so think if we ap­prove some­thing where the da­ta is not strong, we have a risk of de­lay­ing good treat­ment,” he said.

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