Symptoms of UC include rectal bleeding, tenesmus, increased stool frequency, urgency, incontinence, fever, fatigue and malaise, which negatively impact quality of life, physical and mental health and productivity. A subset of patients has extra-intestinal manifestations ranging from iron deficiency anemia to primary sclerosing cholangitis with implications for increased morbidity. In pediatric patients, the symptoms of UC have a more damaging impact, as they affect children’s growth and lead to delayed puberty. These patients also suffer from weight loss, anemia and joint symptoms and current therapy itself adversely impacts normal growth and development. (Kelsen et al., 2008). Treatment of UC with corticosteroids and immunosuppressive agents adds further medical complications to these vulnerable patients, including corticosteroid toxicity and increased risk of invasive infections and malignancy. Both environmental and genetic factors contribute to the etiology of the disease. Environmental factors may induce an ongoing immune response and inflammation in the genetically predisposed host. Efforts to identify specific environmental factors has implicated commensal bacteria or their products as key determinants of the inflammatory response in UC patients (Xavier et al., 2007). Thus, we believe SER-287 may target an “underlying cause” of UC rather than its symptoms.
Current and developing treatment alternatives and their limitations
Currently, patients with UC require life-long therapy. The goals of medical therapy are to induce and maintain clinical and endoscopic remission. Endoscopic remission is recognized as a key treatment goal since it better predicts short- and long-term clinical outcomes than symptomatic improvement alone. Attainment of these goals is generally associated with improved quality of life and decreased need for corticosteroids, and lower risk of hospitalization, colectomy, and colon cancer.
Although the etiology of UC is not fully understood, much progress has been made in the understanding of pathogenesis. Under homeostatic conditions, there is a balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine signals mediated by epithelial and immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract. However, UC is characterized by dysregulated mucosal immune responses and translocation of inflammatory mediators of microbiological origin across a disrupted gastrointestinal barrier that may cause or perpetuate inflammation leading to chronic inflammatory disease. Migration of innate and adaptive immune cells into gut mucosal tissues is potentiated by locally produced cytokines and chemokines, and by the expression of integrins that enhance cellular trafficking into the gut lamina propria. Inhibition of the immune response, via antibodies and proteins that sequester pro-inflammatory cytokines or block the function of integrins, has been an important target of UC drug development over the past decade.
Current management of UC includes medications that decrease general inflammation (e.g., 5-aminosalicylate derivatives, or 5-ASA, corticosteroids) or dampen specific components of the host immune response (e.g., immunomodulators, inhibitors of tumor necrosis factor, anti-integrin antibodies).
For mild-to-moderate disease, the 5-ASA derivatives are the standard of care for both induction and remission. 5-ASA derivatives achieve clinical remission in only 25-40% of patients during induction and approximately one-third of responders have disease flares during the first year of maintenance therapy, necessitating additional treatment interventions such as corticosteroids and immunomodulators (e.g. 6-mercaptopurine, methotrexate, azathioprine). Corticosteroids are not recommended by guideline panels for chronic therapy since these drugs are ineffective for maintaining remission and are associated with significant adverse events. Patients taking thiopurines require ongoing monitoring for hepatotoxicity, myelosuppression, and opportunistic infections, as well as counseling on the potential risk of lymphoma.
Current medical therapies for the treatment of UC suppress the immune system rather than reducing the triggers of immune activation. We believe there remains an unmet need for safer agents with novel non-immunosuppressive mechanisms of action. Moreover, alternative therapy is needed for patients with mild-to-moderate UC who experience frequent flares or are intolerant to the aminosalicylate class of medication or where there are safety concerns relating to the use of immunomodulator or steroid therapy.
Given the dysbiosis seen in UC patients, studies have explored the use of FMT to treat UC. (Angelberger et al., 2013; Colman and Rubin, 2014; Kump et al., 2013; Kunde et al., 2013; Moayyedi et al., 2015; Rossen et al., 2015; Paramsothy et al., 2017). Early reports of enhanced clinical remission and endoscopic improvement with repetitive FMT compared to placebo motivated the preclinical development and clinical testing of SER-287. SER-287 is a donor-derived, microbiome therapeutic candidate composed of the spore-forming fraction of the intestinal microbiota that is underrepresented in UC patients. We initiated our Phase 1b clinical study in December 2015 in subjects with mild-to-moderate UC to evaluate the safety and efficacy of SER-287 added to standard of care treatment. This SER-287 Phase 1b study, a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, multiple-dose, induction study enrolled patients with active mild-to-moderate UC, with Total Modified Mayo scores of 4 to 10. The study enrolled 58 patients at 20 sites across the United States. Study subjects exhibited pre-study disease activity despite use of current therapies in a majority of subjects, which included 5-ASA, low dose corticosteroids, or immunomodulatory therapy. Three SER-287 drug product lots, based on human donor material obtained from three separate individuals, were used in the Phase 1b study.
The primary endpoints of the study were to evaluate the safety and tolerability of SER-287, compare the change in the microbiome composition versus placebo and determine engraftment of SER-287 bacteria following SER-287 treatment. The study evaluated clinical response, complete remission, and endoscopic improvement, as well as metabolomic and immunological findings.