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Europe's first gene therapy withdrawn

24 April 2017

By Kulraj Singh Bhangra

Appeared in BioNews 897

A million-dollar gene therapy treatment for a rare blood disease will be withdrawn from the European market due to lack of demand.

Gene therapy company UniQure announced on 20 April that it will not pursue the European marketing renewal for its drug Glybera (alipogene tiparvovec) which is due to expire in October 2017. 

'Glybera's usage has been extremely limited and we do not envision patient demand increasing materially in the years ahead,' said Mr Matthew Kapusta, chief executive officer of UniQure, which is headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 'The decision to not pursue marketing authorisation renewal of Glybera in Europe involved a thoughtful and careful evaluation of patient needs and the clinical use of the therapy, and is not related to any risk-benefit concern,' he added.

The drug received authorisation in 2012 for the treatment of an ultra-rare blood disorder known as familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD) and was the first ever gene therapy treatment licensed in Europe. It launched two years later with a US$1 million price-tag, but has only been used on one patient in Germany since its approval.

LPLD is a genetic condition that affects patients such that their bodies cannot process fat properly. 'You draw blood and you are astonished, there is no red blood, it's cream,' explains Dr Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, the Berlin physician who treated the only patient who received Glybera. 

That patient appears to be a success story: prior to treatment she was hospitalised over 40 times, but has not had a single admission since. However accessing the treatment was far from easy: Dr Steinhagen-Thiessen faced a huge administrative burden to persuade both the German regulator to permit the treatment, and the patient's insurer to foot the bill.

Ultimately, this may have been the reason Glybera failed. Very small numbers of potential patients, combined with the very high cost have resulted in demand being low.

Renewing authorisation for Glybera for the next five years would come at a price, and there would be significant further costs associated with maintaining a manufacturing infrastructure and associated regulatory reassessments, patient monitoring activities and conducting a post-marketing trial.

Chiesi Farmaceutici in Italy currently holds the European commercialisation rights to Glybera. Mr Tom Delahoyde, the company's managing director in the UK, said in a statement that his company is 'extremely disappointed that such an innovative medicine will no longer be available' after the licence expires.

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Sanofi has signed a partnership deal worth potentially US $845 million with Voyager Therapeutics, a comparatively small biotech firm, making it the latest major pharmaceutical firms to commit financially to gene therapy research...
01 December 2014 - by Arit Udoh 
Glybera, the first gene therapy to go on sale in Europe, is set to cost €1.1m (£870,000) per patient, making it the world's most expensive drug...
11 November 2013 - by Dr Naqash Raja 
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05 November 2012 - by Dr Lucy Spain 
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved Glybera, a gene therapy to treat a rare genetic condition, lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), for sale across Europe. Glybera is the first gene therapy to be approved for the Western market and offers the first therapeutic treatment for people with LPLD....

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