Gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy: An emerging treatment option for a devastating disease

Vamshi K. Rao, Daniel Kapp, Mary Schroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disease that, in most cases, involves homozygous deletion of the SMN1 gene. This causes a deficiency in survival motor neuron (SMN) protein, which plays a critical role in motor neuron development. SMA has a range of phenotype expression resulting in variable age of symptom onset, maximum motor strength achieved, and survival. Without intervention, infants with a more severe form of the disease (type 1 SMA) die before 2 years of age. Although it is rare, SMA is the most common fatal inherited disease of infancy, and until recently, treatment was primarily supportive. In 2016, a new agent, nusinersen, was approved by the FDA. Other treatments are in development, including a gene therapy, AVXS-101. These treatments are not only improving the lives of patients with SMA and their families, they are changing the disease phenotype. They have the greatest benefit when given early in the disease course. OBJECTIVES: To discuss current knowledge about SMA, provide clinical evidence for available and emerging treatment options, and present approaches for adding new therapies to hospital/health system formularies to ensure timely access to newly approved therapies for SMA. SUMMARY: Advances in clinical care have significantly extended the lives of individuals with SMA, and research into the genetic mechanisms leading to disease have revealed strategies for intervention that target the underlying cause of SMA. Nusinersen is now on the market, and other treatment options, such as AVXS-101, may soon be approved. This article provides an overview of SMA and the genetic mechanisms leading to SMN deficiency, then describes how new and emerging treatments work to overcome this deficiency and prevent associated nerve damage and disability. In addition, we discuss steps for incorporating AVXS-101 into hospital/health system formularies, along with barriers and concerns that may delay access, based in part on lessons learned with nusinersen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S3-S16
JournalJournal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy
StatePublished - Dec 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Pharmacy
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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