FDA Approves First Once-Weekly Growth Hormone for Children

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved lonapegsomatropin (Skytrofa, Ascendis Pharma), the first weekly subcutaneous injectable growth hormone for children with growth hormone deficiency (GHD).

The approval was based on the findings of the 52-week, phase 3 heiGHt trial in 161 treatment-naive pediatric patients with GHD, which was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Since 1987, the standard treatment for pediatric GHD, in which the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, has been a daily injection of somatropin (recombinant DNA human growth hormone).

“I am excited to be able to reduce the number of shots for some children requiring growth hormone therapy” with this new dosing option, Bradley S. Miller, MD, PhD, who was not involved with the research, told Medscape Medical News in an email.

“I am hopeful that a once-weekly growth hormone option will improve adherence to growth hormone therapy leading to improved growth and metabolic outcomes,” added Miller, professor and division director, pediatric endocrinology, at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

Lonapegsomatropin is approved for the treatment of pediatric patients age 1 year and older who weigh at least 11.5 kg (25.4 pounds) and have short stature due to inadequate secretion of endogenous growth hormone, according to the prescribing information.

The drug molecule consists of a prodrug of somatropin that is inactive when it is bound to a proprietary TransCon (transient conjugation) inert carrier using a TransCon linker. The three-part molecule breaks apart after injection, exposing the active somatropin that is slowly released.

The heiGHt trial demonstrated noninferiority of lonapegsomatropin to somatropin daily injections. Children who received weekly lonapegsomatropin grew 11.2 cm (4.4 inches) per year, whereas those who received an equivalent total dose of somatropin daily injections grew 10.3 cm (4.1 inches) per year.

Safety outcomes — the ratio of bone age to chronologic age, adverse events, tolerability, and immunogenicity — were similar in both groups.

Anticipated Uptake, Other Drugs on Horizon

Lonapegsomatropin is expected to be available shortly in the United States along with a suite of patient support programs, according to a company press release.

“The impact of the approval of lonapegsomatropin on clinical practice will depend upon its availability, coverage by insurance providers, and patient/provider comfort with using a new product,” Miller said.

For most pediatric endocrinologists, daily growth hormone has been available their entire careers, so he expects it will take some time for the pediatric endocrinology community to be comfortable prescribing long-acting growth hormone (LAGH), the name given to the once-weekly products.

In the meantime, an FDA decision on another once-weekly growth hormone, somatrogon (OPKO Health/Pfizer) for children with GHD is expected very soon, in October 2021.

And a weekly injectable somapacitan (Sogroya, Novo Nordisk), approved by the FDA in September last year for adults with GHD, is also being studied in children, with estimated study completion in 2024.

“Approval of more LAGH molecules, approval of LAGH for more indications, real-world evidence of safety, efficacy, and improved adherence, and personal experience with LAGH, will all likely lead to increased LAGH use over time,” Miller speculated.

“Over the long-term, I expect insurance providers will cover LAGH products,” he surmised, “but that the price will be similar to or slightly higher than daily growth hormone.”

However, if improved adherence with LAGH is demonstrated and associated with better treatment outcomes, the price of LAGH will likely increase and use of daily growth hormone will decrease, he predicts.

Paul Saenger, MD, who was not involved with the research, believes “all three long-acting growth hormone drugs will eventually be approved for GHD in children.”

“The price will be the same or may be at most 10% more than daily growth hormone replacement,” Saenger, a pediatric endocrinologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU Long Island School of Medicine, New York, told Medscape Medical News in an email.

However, daily subcutaneous injections will still be warranted for certain children with GHD, Miller noted.

“Daily growth hormone may be better than LAGH for a small number of children who have severe GHD associated with hypoglycemia,” he said. “The low levels of growth hormone at the end of the weekly interval of LAGH may allow hypoglycemia to occur in this population.”

Phase 3 Trial in 161 Treatment-Naive Children With GHD

The heiGHt trial randomized treatment-naive prepubertal children with GHD 2:1 to weekly lonapegsomatropin or daily somatropin (Genotropin, Pfizer) at 73 sites in 15 countries.

The children were a mean age of 8.5 years (range, 3.2-13.1 years), 82% were boys, and 94% were White.

There were no reported serious adverse events or discontinuations related to lonapegsomatropin.

The most common adverse reactions in ≥ 5% of these pediatric patients were viral infection (15%), pyrexia (15%), cough (11%), nausea and vomiting (11%), hemorrhage (7%), diarrhea (6%), abdominal pain (6%), and arthralgia and arthritis (6%).

Both study groups reported low incidences of transient, non-neutralizing anti-hGH binding antibodies and no cases of persistent antibodies.

Trial limitations include the fact the study was not blinded (as patients received a weekly or daily injection) and drug doses were fixed at 0.24 mg human growth hormone/kg/week, although in real-world clinical practice, doses may be titrated.

Lonapegsomatropin has been studied in more than 300 children with GHD in the phase 3 program in the heiGHt trial (treatment-naive patients), fliGHt trial (treatment-experienced patients), and enliGHten trial (an ongoing long-term extension trial that includes some patients who have been taking lonapegsomatropin for more than 4 years).

The study was sponsored by Ascendis Pharma. Some of the phase 3 study authors are company employees.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Published online July 17, 2021. Full text

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