Eli-Cel from bluebird Gets Accelerated Approval for Boys with CALD

Brain MRI
Credit: Highwaystarz-Photography/Getty Images

Just a month after they nabbed approval for Zynteglo to treat beta thalassemia, bluebird’s SKYSONA (elivaldogene autotemcel), also known as eli-cel, has been granted accelerated approval by the FDA. The company says the drug slows the progression of neurological dysfunction in boys 4-17 years of age with early, active cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (CALD). The previous clinical hold on the eli-cel clinical development program, bluebird says, has been lifted.

The company anticipates that its product will be available by the end of 2022 through a limited number of Qualified Treatment Centers (QTCs) in the United States, including Boston Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The treatment is expected to cost $3 million.

These approvals are critical for the rare-disease startup, which laid off 30% of its workforce earlier this year.

Cerebral ALD is a rare, progressive, neurodegenerative disease that primarily affects young boys and causes irreversible, devastating neurological decline, including major functional disabilities such as loss of communication, cortical blindness, requirement for tube feeding, total incontinence, wheelchair dependence, or complete loss of voluntary movement. Nearly half of patients who do not receive treatment die within five years of symptom onset.

The disorder is caused by mutations in the ABCD1 gene that affects the production of adrenoleukodystrophy protein (ALDP) and subsequently leads to the accumulation of very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs), primarily in the white matter of the brain and spinal cord.

Prior to SKYSONA’s approval, the only treatment options were allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (allo-HSCT), which is associated with the risk of serious potential complications including death, that can increase dramatically in patients without a human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matched donor .

“Children with cerebral ALD and their families have been at the heart of bluebird’s mission since the company was founded more than a decade ago,” said Andrew Obenshain, chief executive officer, bluebird bio.

“For the ALD community, this long-awaited approval represents significant hope and offers families a new option where, for many, there had been none. We are grateful to every individual who was involved in the development of SKYSONA and are committed to working with providers and payers to make this important treatment option available to patients and their families,” he added.

“The agony of watching your child slip away is something no parent should have to bear,” said Elisa Seeger, co-founder, ALD Alliance. “We have made significant strides in providing children diagnosed with CALD the best chance at life with early identification of ALD through expanded newborn screening. Yet with limited treatment options, early diagnosis is still cause for despair instead of hope for many families. Today, parents whose boys receive a CALD diagnosis can have renewed hope for the future.”

While the gene therapy slows the progression of devastating neurological dysfunction, its label also contains a black box warning for hematologic malignancy.

“As one of the largest and most experienced pediatric gene therapy and stem cell transplant programs in the world, the University of Minnesota is committed to expanding access and advancing care and research for patients with rare diseases like ALD,” said Paul Orchard, MD, a pediatric blood and marrow transplant physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital.

He added that, “It’s crucial for these patients and families to have another therapeutic option for cerebral ALD beyond blood stem cell transplantation using cells from another donor, and we’ve seen firsthand the impact that gene therapy has on our patients. We are encouraged by the progress we’re making to treat these rare and devastating diseases.”