MDA has awarded a clinical research training grant totaling $180,000 to clinical research fellow James Berry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. The grant will support completion of a two-year fellowship during which Berry plans to study the effects of a drug called ISIS-333611 in familial, or inherited, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Familial ALS accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all ALS cases. About 20 percent of those (1 to 2 percent of all ALS cases) are caused by a mutation in the SOD1 gene, which leads to production of abnormal SOD1 protein.
Berry is a member of the study team currently planning a phase 2 clinical trial of intrathecal (into the spinal canal) administration of the experimental drug ISIS-333611 (made by Isis Pharmaceuticals of Carlsbad, Calif.) in people with familial ALS. The trial will be a follow-on study to a phase 1 trial of the drug, currently under way, if results from that trial are favorable.
Previous studies of the drug in rats have shown that it is safe and tolerable, that it reduces mutant SOD1 RNA (the chemical step between DNA and protein synthesis) and protein levels, and slowed progression of the disease. It's thought that decreasing mutant SOD1 levels in humans may confer similar therapeutic benefits.
The planned phase 2 study will test ISIS-333611 over an extended period of time to assess its safety and tolerability. If the phase 2 trial is successful, a phase 3 trial may be planned to test efficacy of the drug.
"MDA funding is critical to my career development and my ability to begin my career as a clinical researcher in ALS," Berry said. "I am incredibly excited to have received this award, and I am looking forward to getting started on the project."
Funding for this MDA grant began February 1, 2011.