Nerve Growth Factor Antagonists: Is the Future of Monoclonal Antibodies Becoming Clearer?
Although there is an unmet need for pain medications that are both effective and safe, virtually no novel analgesics have been approved over the past two decades. In view of both experimental and clinical evidence of a major role for nerve growth factor (NGF) in the generation and maintenance of a wide range of pain states, the clinical development of humanised anti-nerve growth factor monoclonal antibodies (anti-NGF mAbs) aroused particular interest. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed a clinical hold on anti-NGF mAb clinical studies in late 2010, first because of reports of serious joint-related adverse events, and afterwards because of sympathetic nervous system safety concerns. The development programmes of tanezumab and fasinumab resumed after the FDA lifted its hold in March 2015, whereas other anti-NGF mAbs were dropped by their sponsors. This article provides an updated review on the analgesic efficacy and safety of anti-NGF agents based on data from fully published studies and public information from websites, and discusses the possible future role of these agents in managing chronic pain. The efficacy of anti-NGF mAbs was highly variable depending on the chronic pain condition studied. The most consistent and convincing results were obtained in patients with symptomatic osteoarthritis of the knee and/or hip. Conversely, studies in non-specific lower back pain and peripheral neuropathic pain generated mixed results. Finally, there was no conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of anti-NGF mAbs in cancer pain and urological chronic pelvic pain syndromes. Treatment-emergent adverse events were similar across anti-NGF mAbs, thus being suggestive of ‘class-specific effects’. Although most patients tolerated anti-NGF agents well, neurosensory symptoms occurred frequently, and some patients developed new or worsened peripheral neuropathies. However, the most problematic safety issue was rapidly destructive arthropathies, leading to joint replacement surgery. To date, the aetiologies of joint-related side effects and their pathophysiology have not been clearly elucidated. However, some risk factors have been identified, such as higher doses of anti-NGF mAbs and longer drug exposure, concurrent nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and pre-existing subchondral insufficiency fractures. Taken together, the present data suggest that low-dose anti-NGF mABs may exhibit a favourable risk-benefit ratio in selected patients with certain chronic pain conditions, especially symptomatic osteoarthritis.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
No sources of funding were used to support the writing of this manuscript.
Conflict of interest
Bernard Bannwarth has received consulting fees and honoraria from Pfizer and Lilly. Marie Kostine has received support from Pfizer for attendance at a scientific meeting.
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