A Phase 2 Randomized, Placebo Controlled Trial of Tocilizumab in ALS Subjects

Study Purpose:

This research study is being done to find out if tocilizumab, also known as Actemra™, can help with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The investigators also want to find out if tocilizumab is safe to take without causing too many side effects.

Currently ALS has no cure and 2 modestly effective treatment to slow the progression of the disease. Although not the initial cause of ALS, the immune system plays a role in the death of motor neurons. The immune cells that participate in this process are stimulated by a substance called interleukin-6 (IL-6) whose effect is blocked by tocilizumab and thus, may slow the death of motor neurons and slow the disease.

Study Status:

Not recruiting


ALS , Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis , Lou Gehrig's Disease , Motor Neuron Disease

Study Type:


Type of Intervention:

Drug, N/A

Intervention Name:

Tocilizumab, Placebo



Phase 2

Study Chair(s)/Principal Investigator(s):

Shafeeq Ladha, MD, Barrow Neurological Institute

Clinicaltrials.gov ID:


Neals Affiliated?


Coordinating Center Contact Information

Mass General Hospital

165 Cambridge Street
Boston, Massachusetts, 02114 United States

Full Study Summary:

This is a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 16-week study evaluating the safety and tolerability of tocilizumab in subjects with ALS.

The primary objective of the study is to determine the safety and tolerability of intravenous administration of 8 mg/kg of tocilizumab every 4 weeks vs. matched intravenous placebo administered every 4 weeks over an 8 week period.

The secondary objectives of the study are to describe the expression of pro-inflammatory genes in Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells (PBMCs) of sporadic ALS patients, to assess the ability of tocilizumab to reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory genes in PBMCs and pro-inflammatory cytokines in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with sporadic ALS and to assess the CSF penetration of tocilizumab. Mean peripheral benzodiazepine receptor 28 (PBR28) uptake will be measured in the motor cortices as regions of interest (ROIs), and will be compared between pre- and post-dose, for Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) subjects.

Approximately 5 Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS) Centers in the US will participate in the study. Twenty-four subjects will be randomized in the study.

This study will be conducted in subjects who meet the El Escorial criteria of possible, laboratory-supported probable, probable, or definite criteria for a diagnosis of ALS. At screening, eligible subjects must be at least 18 years old, must have a slow vital capacity (SVC) ≥ 40% of predicted capacity for age, height and gender (and in the opinion of the investigator is able to comply with and complete the trial), and must provide written informed consent prior to screening. Subjects on a stable dose of riluzole and those not taking riluzole, and women of child-bearing age at screening are eligible for inclusion as long as they meet specific protocol requirements. Detailed criteria are described in the body of the protocol.

Subjects participating in the magnetic resonance imaging - positron emission tomography (MRI-PET) portion of the study (MGH only) must meet the following additional criteria.High or mixed affinity to bind translocator protein (TSPO) (Ala/Ala or Ala/Thr,) Upper Motor Neuron Burden (UMNB) Scale Score ≥25 (out of 45) at the Screening Visit.

and have the ability to safely undergo MRI-PET scans based on the opinion of the site investigator.

Subjects will be randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to intravenous tocilizumab 8 mg/kg or matching placebo every 4 weeks over an 8 week period.

This research study protocol allows the subject to receive up to 3 infusions of Tocilizumab. Even if the treatment is shown to be of benefit, additional infusions of Tocilizumab beyond that allowed in the protocol cannot be given to the subject while she/he is participating in this study.

Subjects will remain on randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind treatment until the Week 8 visit. Each randomized subject will also have a Week 12 Follow-up visit and Week 16 End-of-Study visit to assess for adverse events (AEs), changes in concomitant medications, to administer the ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS-R) and selected study procedures.

Study Sponsor:

Barrow Neurological Institute

Participant Duration:


Estimated Enrollment:


Estimated Study Start Date:

10 / 31 / 2015

Estimated Study Completion Date:

07 / 11 / 2018

Posting Last Modified Date:

12 / 18 / 2019

Date Study Added to neals.org:

06 / 12 / 2015

Minimum Age:

18 Years

Maximum Age:

75 Years

Can participants use Riluzole?


Inclusion Criteria:

- Participants with ALS (El Escorial criteria: possible, laboratory-supported probable, probable or definite)

- Capable of providing informed consent and complying with trial procedures.

- High inflammatory profile of PBMC gene expression

- Upright SVC ≥40% of predicted value for gender, height and age at Screening and in the opinion of the investigator is able to comply with and complete the trial.

- Women must not be able to become pregnant for the duration of the study.

- Negative tuberculosis blood or skin test at Screening

- Not taking riluzole, or on a stable dosage for at least 30 days prior to Screening.

- Subjects medically able to undergo lumbar puncture (LP)

- Subjects must agree not to take live attenuated vaccines 30 days before Screening, throughout the duration of the trial and for 60 days following the subject's last dose of study drug

- Geographic accessibility to the study site

Additional MRI-PET Inclusion Criteria (MGH only):

- High or mixed affinity to bind TSPO protein (Ala/Ala or Ala/Thr) (see section 7.1)

- Upper Motor Neuron Burden (UMNB) Scale Score ≥25 (out of 45) at the Screening Visit.

- Able to safely undergo MRI-PET scans based on the opinion of the site investigator.

Exclusion Criteria:

- Prior use of Tocilizumab, cell-depleting therapies, alkylating agents, total lymphoid irradiation

- Stem cell therapies

- Dependence on mechanical ventilation as defined as being unable to lay supine without it, unable to sleep without it, or continuous daytime use

- Presence of tracheostomy at Screening

- Exposure to any anti-inflammatory agent currently under investigation for the treatment of patients with ALS (off label use or investigational) within 30 days prior to the Screening Visit (examples include NP001 and Lunasin). Medications that do not have an anti-inflammatory mechanism, such as mexiletine or retigabine are allowed if on stable dose for 30 days prior to Screening visit

- Treatment with a prohibited medication within 30 days of the Screening Visit

- Treatment with intravenous gamma globulin, plasmapheresis or Prosorba column within 6 months of Screening

- Presence of diaphragm pacing system at Screening.

- Primary or secondary immunodeficiency (history of or currently active) unless related to primary disease under investigation

- History of or active diverticulitis, diverticulosis requiring antibiotic treatment, peptic ulcer disease, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract perforation, or chronic ulcerative lower GI disease such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or other symptomatic lower GI conditions that might predispose to perforations

- Known active current or history of recurrent bacterial, viral, fungal, mycobacterial or other opportunistic infections.

- History of severe allergic or anaphylactic reactions to human, humanized or murine monoclonal antibodies

- Presence of any of the following clinical conditions: bleeding diathesis, or any other clinical condition that would, in the opinion of the investigator, place the patient at increased risk during LP. Drug abuse or alcoholism within the past 12 months. Unstable cardiac, pulmonary, renal, hepatic, endocrine, hematologic, or active infectious disease, including current or prior malignancy. Rheumatic autoimmune disease, mixed connective tissue disease, scleroderma, polymyositis, or significant systemic involvement secondary to rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence of active malignant disease, malignancies diagnosed within the previous 5 years, or breast cancer diagnosed within the previous 5 years. Human immunodeficiency virus infection or other immunodeficient state.Uncontrolled hypertension defined as systolic blood pressure > 170 or diastolic blood pressure > 110. Unstable psychiatric illness defined as psychosis or untreated major depression within 90 days of the Screening Visit

- Any major episode of infection requiring hospitalization or treatment with IV antibiotics within 4 weeks of screening

- Screening alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), or total bilirubin > than 1.5 times the upper limit of normal (ULN), serum creatinine > 1.6 mg/dL in female patients and > 1.9 mg/dL in male patients (patients with serum creatinine values exceeding limits may be eligible for the study if their estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR) are >30), hemoglobin < 85 g/L, white blood cells < 3.0 x 109/L, absolute neutrophil count of <2000/mm3, absolute lymphocyte count < 0.5 x 109/L, platelet concentration of <100,000/mm3, positive Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)

- Pregnant women or women currently breastfeeding

- No history of chicken pox infection or no history of varicella zoster vaccination

- Any reason in the opinion of the investigator that the patient may not be able to comply with study procedures, complete the study or is unsuitable for immunosuppressive therapy.

Additional MR-PET Exclusion Criteria (MGH only):

- Any contraindication to undergo MRI studies such as

- History of a cardiac pacemaker or pacemaker wires

- Metallic particles in the body

- Vascular clips in the head

- Prosthetic heart valves

- Claustrophobia

- Radiation exposure that exceeds the site's current guidelines

- Current use of tobacco products including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco, or nicotine replacement products such as gum, or patch

- Taking any other anti-inflammatory or immune modulating medications except for over the counter NSAIDs

- Unwilling or unable to discontinue benzodiazepine usage (other than Lorazepam, Clonazepam, or Zolpidem) for one day prior to scanning

Barrow Neurological Institute

Phoenix, Arizona 85013
United States

University of Kansas Medical Center

Kansas City, Kansas 66160
United States

Massachusetts General Hospital

Boston, Massachusetts 02114
United States

Wake Forest University School of Medicine

Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157
United States

Penn State College of Medicine Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033
United States