Year 1

Huntington’s disease (HD) is a devastating degenerative brain disease with at least a 1 in 10,000 prevalence that inevitably leads to death. These numbers do not fully reflect the large societal and familial cost of HD, which requires extensive care-giving. HD has no effective treatment or cure and symptoms unstoppably progress for 15-20 years, with onset typically striking in midlife. Because HD is genetically dominant, the disease has a 50% chance of being inherited by the children of patients. Symptoms of the disease include uncontrolled movements, difficulties in carrying out daily tasks or continuing employment, and severe psychiatric manifestations including depression. Current treatments only address some symptoms and do not change the course of the disease, therefore a completely unmet medical need exists. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and their derivatives offer a possible long-term treatment approach that could relieve the tremendous suffering experienced by patients and their families. HD is the 3rd most prevalent neurodegenerative disease, but because it is entirely genetic and the mutation known, a diagnosis can be made with certainty and clinical applications of hESCs may provide insights into treating brain diseases that are not caused by a single, known mutation. Trials in mice where protective factors were directly delivered to the brains of HD mice have been effective, suggesting that delivery of these factors by hESC-derived neural stem cells may help patients. Transplantation of fetal brain tissue in HD patients suggests that replacing neurons that are lost may also be effective. The ability to differentiate hESCs into neural populations offers a powerful and sustainable alternative to provide neuroprotection to the brain with the possibility of cell replacement. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of investigators and consultants with expertise in basic, translational and clinical development and have identified a lead developmental candidate, ESI-017 neural stem cells, that have disease modifying activity in HD mice with sufficient promise to perform systematic efficacy and safety studies in HD mice with cells generated for this project. A bank of GMP grade ESI-017 ES and neural stem cells has now been manufactured for the proposed studies. The group has carried out additional studies to identify optimal sites for delivery of the neural stem cells and have initial data showing that the cells can survive long term and differentiate into more mature neuronal cell types in the brain of HD mice. A pre-pre-IND application was submitted to the FDA with guidance from the preclinical and clinical advisors and a meeting is now scheduled with the FDA.