FDA Committee in Favor of Imetelstat for Transfusion-Dependent MDS

The Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC), a group of experts that advises the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on cancer therapies, recently voted in favor of imetelstat for the treatment of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome and anemia (decreased red blood cells) who are dependent on blood transfusions and are unresponsive to or ineligible for treatment with erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs).

More specifically, 12 panel members voted that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks, while two members voted the opposite.“Transfusion independence is the quality metric here and why I think there’s efficacy and meaningfulness for patients here,” said Dr. Ashley Rosko, professor in the Division of Hematology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, and member of the ODAC.

Points to know:

  • Despite concerns, the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee favors imetelstat’s approval, highlighting its potential benefits for certain patients with MDS.
  • The drug offers the potential benefit of transfusion independence, which could potentially improve patient outcomes.
  • The committee’s evaluation raised questions about the drug’s efficacy, especially regarding disease-modifying effects and patient-reported outcomes.

About the Phase 2/3 IMerge Study

The new drug application for imetelstat was supported by data from the IMerge/MDS3001 study. Findings were published in The Lancet in December 2023.

Patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups: Two-thirds received imetelstat while the other third received a placebo.

In the experimental imetelstat arm, 40% of patients (40 patients) achieved red blood cell (RBC) transfusion independence of at least eight weeks versus 15% of patients (nine patients) in the placebo arm, meeting the study’s primary endpoint.

READ MORE:Imetelstat Hits Transfusion Independence Goal in Low-Risk Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Regarding safety, 91% of patients in the imetelstat arm and 47% of patients in the placebo arm experienced grade 3 to 4 treatment-emergent side effects, including neutropenia (68% versus 3%) and thrombocytopenia (62% versus 8%) — which are both conditions involving a decrease in a specific type of white blood cell. However, these safety issues were quickly resolved, according to Dr. Amer Zeidan, associate professor at Yale School of Medicine. No treatment-related deaths were reported.

“In this trial, the drug…was associated with treatment-related neutropenia and thrombocytopenia, which were grade 3 and higher in around two-thirds of patients. However, most of those were reversible within two weeks of holding the dose or delaying the cycle or reducing the dose and did not lead to an increase in clinically significant adverse events such as bleeding and febrile neutropenia. I think overall, the efficacy and safety profiles are favorable,” Zeidan explained in an interview with CURE®’s sister brand, Targeted OncologyTM.

Applicant’s Stance

According to Geron, the manufacturer of imetelstat, approximately 80% to 85% of patients with lower-risk MDS have anemia at diagnosis, with most being highly symptomatic, and 40% of these patients have anemia that is dependent on red blood cell transfusions.Not only does the reliance on red blood cell transfusions strain medical resources, but chronic red blood cell transfusions are correlated with negative clinical outcomes, including risks of transfusion reactions, cardiovascular complications, infections and iron overload, and associated end-organ dysfunction.

For these reasons, transfusion independence should be a therapeutic goal for patients and physicians, according to Dr. Michael Savona, Beverly and George Rawlings Director of Hematology Research and professor of medicine and cancer biology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, as well as author of the IMerge study published in The Lancet.

The current landscape of care for this intent-to-treat population is limited, with only Reblozyl (luspatercept) and Revlimid (lenalidomide) approved for patients who are relapsed or refractory to ESAs. Further, these agents are only indicated in small subpopulations and do not show extended durability of transfusion independence, as presented by Savona.

The basis of many drug approvals in MDS, including Revlimid and Reblozyl, has been RBC transfusion independence, and only the approval for azacitidine in 2004 was supported by primary endpoint overall survival data.

Dr. Rami Komrokji, vice chair of the malignant hematology department and lead clinical investigator of the MDS program at Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, provided the clinician’s perspective for the applicant’s presentation.

Komorokji concluded that achieving transfusion independence was a meaningful clinical benefit for transfusion-dependent anemia in patients with lower-risk MDS and that the duration of response was only clinically relevant in responders. Komorokji, who also served as an investigator on the IMerge study, noted that imetelstat provides long-term, continuous transfusion-free periods, and meaningful increases in hemoglobin and hematologic function were observed with imetelstat.

FDA’s Stance

In delivering the FDA’s opening remarks, Dr. Lori Ehrlich, cross-disciplinary team leader in the Division of Hematology Malignancies I, stated, “For a new drug to be approved in the United States, the FDA must determine that the drug is safe and effective for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the product labeling. The demonstration of effectiveness requires substantial evidence that the drug will have the effect it purports or is represented to have.”

“For a single randomized trial to support an application, results must be sufficiently robust and compelling. Because all drugs have adverse effects, the demonstration of safety requires showing that the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks,” Ehrlich continued.

The FDA’s issues with efficacy included that the secondary endpoints were not supportive of a disease-modifying treatment effect and that the patient-reported outcomes did not corroborate a treatment effect. Dr. Nina Kim, clinical reviewer, presented on behalf of the FDA.

Kim noted that the clinical meaningfulness of an eight-week transfusion independence period in the context of lower-risk MDS is uncertain. Further, the association between a treatment-induced increased transfusion independence rate and an improvement in overall survival has not been demonstrated, and to support a marketing application, this connection should be present. However, no other trial has demonstrated a survival advantage in lower-risk MDS with transfusion-dependent anemia.

In lieu of these findings, the FDA held that patient-reported outcomes should demonstrate significant improvements. While the patient-reported outcome findings were only exploratory, the FDA did not find compelling evidence to support an improvement in anemia-related symptoms, primarily fatigue.

Most of the study sites of IMerge/MDS3001 were not conducted within the United States, and 93% of patients were enrolled in non-United States. sites. Kim noted that the primary efficacy results varied between United States and non-United States sites, indicating that imetelstat may not be an ideal applicant for approval in the United States population.Although the incidence of grade 3 to 4 side effects was noted to be higher in the imetelstat arm, additionally, a higher percentage of patient deaths was observed in the imetelstat arm compared with the placebo arm.

Kim also identified issues with the dosing of imetelstat.

“Although other dose levels of imetelstat have been explored in myelofibrosis and solid tumors, only one dose has been explored in lower-risk MDS. The question remains whether this is actually the optimal dose in MDS given the dose modification rate with imetelstat observed in the MDS3001 study when compared with the placebo group, combined with the fact that there were high rates and a positive dose exposure-response relationship for grade 3 to 4 thrombocytopenia,” Kim said.

“This data suggests that this may not, in fact, be the optimal dose,” Kim continued.

ODAC’s Decision

Members of the committee who specialize in hematologic malignancies were encouraged by the results that imetelstat produced, especially for a patient population with limited options.

“I think transfusion independence is the standard of what to look for in these low-risk MDS patients. I think looking at things like [complete response (disappearance of cancer)] and [partial response (dedcrease in cancer)] really are not applicable in this population…The transfusion independence is the benchmark that is used in these patients. It’s been the benchmark that’s used for other therapies in this setting,” said Dr. Anthony Hunter, assistant professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.

“While [the cytopenias] are numerically important, it was really gratifying to see that they did not result in complications. When you take a look at the infections that were reported, it looked like nearly the majority were viral infections. It has been really hard for any of us to conduct and help our patients during the [COVID-19] pandemic, and for a lower-risk MDS, they’re coming in frequently for transfusions. It was a laudable effort,” said Dr. Jacqueline Garcia, medical oncologist in the Adult Leukemia Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA

“One of the things particularly with the MDS population is fatigue. When I’m looking at this data in terms of being able to say what the applicant has presented here sufficiently robust. I think yes, I do,” said Rosko.

“This is a supportive drug….they did a trial and met their primary endpoint,” said Dr. Jorge Nieva, associate professor of clinical medicine and section head of solid tumors, University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles, CA. “The data here I think are sufficient.”

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