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Gene Therapy for Therapeutic Angiogenesis

Written By

Rudolf Kirchmair

Submitted: November 11th, 2010 Published: June 22nd, 2011

DOI: 10.5772/21127

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1. Introduction

Cardiovascular diseases still represent the leading cause of death in the western world. Coronary artery disease (CAD) affects over 5% of the US population and is responsible for nearly 7 millions of in-patient procedures every year (1). Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), with a prevalence of 3-30%, also is a very common disease (2). PAD can be classified according to the severity of clinical symptoms into Fontaine-stages I-IV. In Fontaine-stage I patients are clinically asymptomatic and this stage is the most common form of PAD (70-80%). Patients with Fontaine II (10-20%) suffer from intermittent claudication that might be life-style limiting and require therapy like percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA). A smaller portion (3-5%) of PAD patients have critical limb ischemia (CLI) characterized by rest pain (Fontaine III) or ulcer (Fontaine IV). The incidence of CLI is estimated to be 500-1000 per 1 Million but prognosis is very bad. One year after diagnosis only 45 % of patients are alive without major amputation and effective revascularization with relieve of symptoms can only be achieved in 25% of patients. Therefore, new therapeutic strategies are urgently needed for these patients.


2. Preclinical data

Generation of new blood vessels can be achieved by sprouting of new vessels out of the pre-existing capillary plexus (angiogenesis), by generation of new arteries (arteriogenesis) or by circulating endothelial progenitor cells (vasculogenesis) (3). Several factors have been characterized which induce growth of new blood vessels, the most prominent being vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and members of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) family. In animal models of hindlimb and myocardial ischemia beneficial effects on blood perfusion and blood vessel density of these (and other) factors as well as of progenitor cells could be demonstrated (4) (5). This therapeutic concept was named “therapeutic angiogenesis“ and application of angiogenic factors via gene therapy vectors like plasmids or adenoviruses was superior to protein application probably due to longer lasting expression of respective cytokines.


3. Therapeutic angiogenesis: gene therapy trials in PAD patients

Due to promising data in preclinical studies the concept of therapeutic angiogenesis was tested in clinical trials in PAD and CAD patients. While first phase-1 studies in PAD patients were promising phase-II studies in patients with intermittent claudication were negative (see summary for clinical trials in PAD patients in table 1). Obviously especially patients with CLI respond to therapy with angiogenic factors and gene therapy seems to have a benefit over therapy with respective proteins.

Phase-1VEGF-165 plasmid i.m.n=6; CLI (Buerger’s)Increase ABI, collaterals; improvement ulcer, painIsner et al 1998 (6)
Phase-1VEGF-165 plasmid i.m.n=9;
Increase ABI, collaterals; improvement ulcer, pain, walking timeBaumgartner et al 1998 (7)
PREVENT I Phase-1E2F decoy, bypass graft ex-vivo n=41; bypass OPReduction bypass-stenosis, -occlusion and -revisionMann et al 1999 (8)
Phase-1FGF-2 protein i.a.n=13; claudicationIncrease calf blood flowLazarous et al 2000 (9)
Phase-1FGF-2 protein i.v.n=24; claudicationNo improvement of walking time, proteinuriaCooper et al 2001(10)
Phase-1FGF-1 Plasmid i.m.n=66;
Improvement TcPO2, ABI, pain, ulcerComerota et al 2002 (11)
TRAFFIC Phase-2FGF-2 protein i.a.n=195; claudicationImprovement walking time, ABI day 90, not 180 Lederman et al 2002 (12)
adenovirus i.m.
n=105; claudicationNo improvement of walking timeRajagopalan et al 2003 (13)
Phase-1VEGF-165 plasmid i.m.n=21;
Improvement ABI, collaterals, ulcer, pain Shyu et al 2003 (14)
Phase-1/2FGF-4 adenovirus i.m.n=13,
Improvement painMatyas et al
PREVENT III Phase-3E2F decoy, bypass graft ex-vivon=1138 bypass operationSecondary bypass patency improved; primary endpoint (time to bypass occlusion) negativeConte et al 2006(16)
Phase-1/2HGF plasmid i.m.n=6;
Improvement pain, ABI, TcPO2, ulcerMorishita et al 2006(17)
Phase-1/2FGF-2 gelatine-hydrogeln=7;
Improvement walking time, TcPO2, ABI, painMarui et al 2007(18)
Del-1 plasmid i.m.n=105;
No improvement walking time, ABIGrossman et al 2007(19)
Phase-1HIF-1α/VP16 adenovirus i.m.n=41;
Improvement pain, ulcerRajagopalan et al 2007(20)
HIF-1α/VP16 adenovirus i.m.n=289
No difference in walking timeACC 2009

Table 1.

Therapeutic angiogenesesis in PAD.(Abbreviations: CLI, critical limb ischemia; ABI, ankle/brachial index; E2F, transcription factor E2F; HGF, hepatocyte growth factor; Del-1, developmentally regulated endothelial locus 1; HIF-1 α, hypoxia inducible factor-1 α ; Buerger’s, thrombangitis obliterans Winiwater-Buerger; i.m., intra-muscular; i.v., intra-venous; i.a., intra-arterial; TcPO2, transcutaneous oxygen tension)

Mäkinen et al (22)
VEGF-165 adenovirus or plasmid/liposome
i.a. after PTA
n=54; claudication, CLI Increase of vascular density
Kusumanto et al (23)
VEGF-165 plasmid i.m.n=54;
Improvement ABI, ulcers
Nikol et al (24)
FGF-1 plasmid i.m.n=112;
Reduction of amputations; primary endpoint (healing of ulcers) not reached
Powell et al (25)
HGF plasmid i.m.n=106;
Improvement TcPO2
TAMARIS, Phase 3
AHA 2010
FGF-1 plasmid i.m.n=525;
Primary endpoint (major amputation or death) not reached

Table 2.

Therapeutic Angiogenesis in PAD:-larger placebo-controlled, double-blinded trials. (Abbreviations: ABI, ankle/brachial index; i.m., intra-muscular; i.v., intra-venous; i.a., intra-arterial; TcPO2, transcutaneous oxygen tension)

The last years several placebo-controlled double-blinded trials have been published which showed beneficial effects in CLI patients after i.m.plasmid gene therapy with VEGF, FGF1 or hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) (Tab. 2). Especially the TALISMAN study could demonstrate a reduction in amputation rate. Regarding potential adverse effects these studies did not show evidence of increase of cancer rates or proliferative retinopathy. (21)

The positive results of the TALISMAN study on reduction of amputation rate and mortality in CLI patients by FGF1 gene therapy was the basis for a large phase 3 study. Over 500 CLI patients were treated with FGF1 gene therapy versus placebo. The primary outcome after 12 months was a combined endpoint of major amputation above the ankle or death. The results of this trial, called TAMARIS, were presented at the AHA meeting, November 2010, in Chicago, USA. There was no difference in mortality and major amputation between FGF1 gene therapy and placebo. Also secondary endpoints were not different and there was no increase in occurrence of malignant diseases or proliferative retinopathy. The difference between the positive results in phase 2 (TALISMAN) and negative results in phase 3 (TAMARIS) were explained by a type-1 error (finding by chance) in the phase-2 study. It will be interesting to see the publication of the TAMARIS trial to further discuss the reasons for this negative trial and the different results of this trial and phase 2 TALISMAN.


4. Therapeutic angiogenesis: gene therapy trials in CAD patients

Several angiogenic cytokines (especially VEGF-A and FGF4) were tested in patients with severe chronic CAD in whom revascularization by angioplasty or bypass surgery was no further option and who suffered from severe angina and limited exercise tolerance (for recent excellent reviews please also see (26, 27). As observed in PAD-patients phase-1 and phase-2 studies showed feasibility of these therapies and signs of bioactivity. Specifically, gene therapy (adenovirus, administered intra-coronary) with FGF4 showed a trend toward increase in exercise time in the AGENT (Angiogenic Gene Therapy) trial and the subsequent phase-2 AGENT 2 trial showed reduction in reversible perfusion defect size (however not statistically significant due to one outlier in the placebo group). The phase-3 AGENT 3 and AGENT 4 trials were stopped early when an interim analysis of the AGENT 3 cohort indicated that the primary endpoint (change in exercise treadmill test after 12 weeks) was unlikely to differ between FGF4 and placebo. A pooled analysis of AGENT 3 and 4 however revealed that women and patients >65 years with severe angina had statistically significant improvement in angina class and exercise test. A subsequent gene therapy trial in women with CAD was stopped, apparently due to slow enrollment.

Also VEGF gene therapy was tested in CAD patients in randomized studies. In the Kuopio Angiogenesis Trial (KAT) no difference in restenosis rate (primary endpoint) was observed after intra-coronary VEGF gene therapy (plasmid liposome or adenovirus), however after 6 months increased myocardial perfusion was found after adenoviral VEGF application. In the Euroinject One study VEGF plasmid was injected intra- myocardial into regions with perfusion defects. The primary endpoint, improvement of myocardial perfusion was not reached, however, VEGF improved regional wall motion score.

For summary of controlled trials on therapeutic angiogenesis in CAD patients see table 3.


5. Future perspectives

The negative results of phase-3 trials AGENT and TAMARIS raise important question about therapeutic angiogenesis and gene therapy. What is the reason that therapeutic angiogenesis with factors like VEGF or FGF did improve outcomes in a variety of animal models but failed to improve human disease? One explanation is that often young animals were used

Phase-1/2VEGF-2 plasmid i.myoc.n=19; CCS3-4, RA, NRImprovement angina classLosordo et al 2002(28)
Adenovirus-FGF4; i.coro.n=79;
Trend toward increase in exercise timeGrines et al 2002 (29)
AGENT 2 Phase-2Adenovirus-FGF4; i.coro.n=52; CCS2-4, RA, NRImprovement of perfusion defects by SPECT (not sign.)Grines et al 2003 (30)
VEGF protein i.coro., i.v.n=178; RA, NRImprovement angina class, no effect on exercise timeHenry et al 2003(31)
VEGF-165 adenovirus or plasmid/liposome i.coro.n=103; stable anginaImprovement in myocardial perfusion, no effect on restenosisHedman et al 2003(32)
VEGF-165 Plasmid i.myoc.n=80;
CCS3-4, RA, NR
Improvement wall motion, no effect on myocardial perfusionKastrup et al 2005(33)
Open label
Adenovirus VEGF-121 i.myoc. (thoracotomy)n=65; CCS2-4, RA, NRImprovement in exercise time at 26 weeks, not at 12 weeks Stewart et al 2006(34)
Adenovirus-FGF4; i.coro.n=532; CCS2-4, RA,
Enrollment stopped after interim analysis, primary endpoint negative.
Improvement angina and exercise time in women, older patients with severe symptoms
Henry et al 2007(35)

Table 3.

Controlled trials on therapeutic angiogenesis in CAD patients. (Abbreviations: CCS, Canadian cardiovascular society; i.coro., intra-coronary; i.myoc., intra-myocardial; i.v., intra-venous; NR, nonrevascularizable; RA, refractory stable angina;)

whereas in humans usually patients of older age and a variety of co-morbidities are affected. Additionally, transfection efficacy of gene therapy vectors, even of adenoviruses, is lower in humans than in animals and precise dosing of vectors is not possible due to the fact that transgene expression cannot be precisely quantified. Another open question is the selection of gene therapy vectors-adenoviruses usually have adverse effects, especially immunogenicity, whereas plasmid vectors are safe but have low transfection efficacy. Dose and duration of therapy is another question. One dose of a vector that expresses the transgene for days to weeks might not be sufficient to treat a disease that evolved over the time-course of many years. Also patient selection might have been a problem: usually “no-option” patients were included in these studies, e.g. patients with large ischemic ulcers in the case of CLI (Rutherford class 6). Maybe patients with less severe disease, like patients with Rutherford class 5 or patients who would be treated additionally with revascularization procedures would benefit more from therapeutic angiogenesis. Endpoint selection is another critical point as some functional outcome measurements like severity of angina are subjective and might be affected by the placebo effect. Cell-based therapies have shown positive effects in CAD and PAD (36, 37)-maybe a combined therapeutic strategy consisting of cell application and gene therapy with angiogenic factors would result in better outcome.


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Written By

Rudolf Kirchmair

Submitted: November 11th, 2010 Published: June 22nd, 2011