‘Mind-blowing’ gene therapy could herald a cure for haemophilia, study shows

pharmafile | December 14, 2017 | News story | Research and Development haemophilia, pharma 

A team of clinical researchers at Barts Health NHS Trust and Queen Mary University of London have reported that a single gene therapy treatment has proved remarkably effective in the treatment of haemophilia A one year after infusion, with patients displaying normal levels of the missing protein that characterises the condition.

Patients living with haemophilia do not produce adequate levels of the protein Factor VIII which enables their blood to clot and prevents continued bleeding. There are around 2,000 people with severe haemophilia A in the UK who produce virtually none of the protein, and for whom even minor injury or physical exertion leading to internal bleeding can be life-threatening. There is no cure for the condition – the only course of treatment currently available is multiple weekly injections to control and prevent bleeding.

The team injected 13 patients with the missing gene which prevented them from producing the essential clotting factor, delivered to the liver via a genetically engineered virus, and monitored them for up to 19 months following the initial infusion. Through testing, it was found that 11 of the 13 patients showed normal or near-normal levels of Factor VIII, with all 13 able to stop their previous regular treatment.

“We have seen mind-blowing results which have far exceeded our expectations,” commented study leader Professor John Pasi, Haemophilia Centre Director at Barts Health NHS Trust and Professor of Haemostasis and Thrombosis at Queen Mary University of London. “When we started out we thought it would be a huge achievement to show a 5% improvement, so to actually be seeing normal or near normal factor levels with dramatic reduction in bleeding is quite simply amazing. We really now have the potential to transform care for people with haemophilia using a single treatment for people who at the moment must inject themselves as often as every other day. It is so exciting.”

29-year-old Jake Omer was diagnosed at the age of two and has needed frequent injections of factor VIII ever since. Since receiving the ground-breaking new treatment, he remarked: “The gene therapy has changed my life. I now have hope for my future. It is incredible to now hope that I can play with my kids, kick a ball around and climb trees well into my kids’ teenage years and beyond. The arthritis in my ankles meant I used to worry how far I would be able to walk once I turned 40. At 23 I struggled to run 100m to catch a bus; now at 29 I’m walking two miles every day which I just couldn’t have done before having the gene therapy treatment.

“It’s really strange to not have to worry about bleeding or swellings,” he continued. “The first time I noticed a difference was about four months after the treatment when I dropped a weight in the gym, bashing my elbow really badly. I started to panic thinking this is going to be really bad, but after icing it that night I woke up and it looked normal. That was the moment I saw proof and knew that the gene therapy had worked.”

Matt Fellows

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