Canakinumab treatment of sickle cell anemia did not meet its primary endpoint of a clinically relevant reduction in average daily pain.
Canakinumab in combination with hydroxyurea was well tolerated and reduced systemic inflammation with potential for clinical benefits.
Excessive intravascular release of lysed cellular contents from damaged red blood cells (RBCs) in patients with sickle cell anemia (SCA) can activate the inflammasome, a multiprotein oligomer promoting maturation and secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-1β (IL-1β). We hypothesized that IL-1β blockade by canakinumab in patients with SCA would reduce markers of inflammation and clinical disease activity. In this randomized, double-blind, multicenter phase 2a study, patients aged 8 to 20 years with SCA (HbSS or HbSβ0-thalassemia), history of acute pain episodes, and elevated high-sensitivity C-reactive protein >1.0 mg/L at screening were randomized 1:1 to received 6 monthly treatments with 300 mg subcutaneous canakinumab or placebo. Measured outcomes at baseline and weeks 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24 included electronic patient-reported outcomes, hospitalization rate, and adverse events (AEs) and serious AEs (SAEs). All but 1 of the 49 enrolled patients were receiving stable background hydroxyurea therapy. Although the primary objective (prespecified reduction of pain) was not met, compared with patients in the placebo arm, patients treated with canakinumab had reductions in markers of inflammation, occurrence of SCA-related AEs and SAEs, and number and duration of hospitalizations as well as trends for improvement in pain intensity, fatigue, and absences from school or work. Post hoc analysis revealed treatment effects on weight, restricted to pediatric patients. Canakinumab was well tolerated with no treatment-related SAEs and no new safety signal. These findings demonstrate that the inflammation associated with SCA can be reduced by selective IL-1β blockade by canakinumab with potential for therapeutic benefits. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT02961218.