Conference Coverage

Alzheimer’s anti-tau drug fails phase III, but posts some benefit in monotherapy subanalysis


AT AAIC 2016


TORONTO – A highly anticipated phase III trial of an anti-tau drug has posted negative topline results, conferring no cognitive or functional benefits when given in conjunction with standard-of-care Alzheimer’s disease medications.

The drug, LTMX (TauRx, Singapore), also did not slow the progression of brain atrophy on imaging in either of two doses tested, according to a company press release.

Although the study didn’t meet its clinical endpoints in the overall cohort of 891 patients with mild-moderate disease, TauRx promoted it as “promising,” based on a subgroup analysis of the 15% of patients who took the drug as monotherapy.

Among these patients, LMTX was associated with dose-dependent, statistically significant improvements in the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale measures of cognition (ADAS-cog) and Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Activities of Daily Living inventory (ADCS-ADL). The drug was also associated with a slowing of brain ventricular expansion, compared with controls, suggesting that it could be preserving brain mass.

Dr. David S. Knopman Mitchel L. Zoler/Frontline Medical News

Dr. David S. Knopman

Nevertheless, the trial must be read as another negative one, said David S. Knopman, MD, who moderated a press briefing where the data were presented.

“I must say I am disappointed by the results because in my view of clinical trials forged from 30 years of experience, the only thing that really counts is the prespecified primary outcome,” said Dr. Knopman of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “I think the secondary results are interesting, especially imaging findings. But our experience of secondary analyses in this field is that they are fraught with hidden biases. And because this is a small subset of just 15%, it’s very difficult to interpret.”

Details of the study

The 15-month study comprised 891 patients with mild-moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these (85%) were taking standard-of-care symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease medications. Patients were randomized to 75 mg twice daily, 125 mg twice daily, or placebo, which necessarily consisted of a small amount of the medication. LMTX is a derivative of the dye methylene blue and colors urine when excreted. The inactive dose is enough to provide that color so that blinding can be maintained.

Patients were grouped according to whether they took the study drug as add-on therapy (85%) or as monotherapy (15%). However, the results were presented in a somewhat unusual way, with the placebo patients in each therapeutic regimen grouped together. Thus, there was no way to compare the placebo-treated patients who did not receive standard-of-care medications against those who received LMTX monotherapy without standard-of-care medications; instead, the benefits reported in the active monotherapy group were compared with the results seen in placebo patients in both the mono- and add-on groups.

The reason for this was that the numbers in each group were small, said Serge Gauthier, MD, who presented the LMTX data at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016. Among the monotherapy group, 42 took 75 mg twice daily, 40 took 125 mg twice daily, and 54 took placebo. He suggested that these numbers could be pooled with those in a similar phase III trial of LMTX in about 800 patients with mild disease, which will be completed this fall.

“My proposal would be to combine these groups and then we would really be able to understand what we’re seeing in the control monotherapy versus the study drug monotherapy groups,” said Dr. Gauthier of McGill University, Montreal.

The study was conducted at 115 sites across 16 countries in Europe, North America, and Asia. All of the patients had a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease; no one underwent amyloid PET imaging. The patients’ mean age was 70.6 years, and their baseline Mini Mental State Exam score was 18.7.

At the study’s end, patients in the monotherapy group taking 75 mg twice daily had declined 6.3 points less on the ADAS-cog than did the grouped placebo patients, indicating preserved cognition. Those taking 125 mg twice daily declined 5.8 points less than did the grouped placebo patients. On the ADCS-ADL, patients taking 75 mg twice daily scored 6.5 points higher than did the placebo group, indicating better function, and those taking 125 mg twice daily scored 6.9 points higher than did the placebo group.

Lateral ventricular volume expansion on MRI was significantly less than that seen in placebo-treated patients. For those taking 75 mg twice a day, ventricular expansion was reduced by 38%; for those taking 125 mg twice a day, expansion was reduced by 33%. This was accompanied by significant slowing of whole brain atrophy, Dr. Gauthier said, adding that this finding has never been reported in an Alzheimer’s drug trial.


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