Benitec’s BB-301 Granted FDA Orphan Drug Status for Treatment of OPMD

Benitec’s BB-301 Granted FDA Orphan Drug Status for Treatment of OPMD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted the gene therapy BB-301 orphan drug status for the treatment of oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD), according to Benitec Biopharma.

OPMD is caused by a mutation of the poly(A)-binding protein nuclear 1 (PABPN1) gene. The resulting faulty protein can form insoluble aggregates associated with muscle weakness.

In a study published last year in the journal Nature Communications, Benitec showed that a molecular biology strategy known as DNA-directed RNA interference (ddRNAi) might be used to shut down and replace the mutant PABPN1 protein. The approach simultaneously inhibits the mutated protein and produces a functional protein to replace it with.

The ddRNAi approach led to a significant reduction in PABPN1 aggregates, reversing impaired muscle strength and decreasing muscle fibrosis. In their study, researchers used cells from OPMD patients to confirm results seen in mice and concluded the approach could be used to treat the orphan disease.

Based on these findings, Benitec and collaborators developed BB-301, a ddRNAi therapy for OPMD.

The FDA’s orphan drug status granted to BB-301 will provide the biopharmaceutical company with a range of benefits, from accelerated regulatory review and tax credits, as well as seven years of market exclusivity. The FDA’s orphan drug status follows the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) decision to grant orphan designation to BB-301 one year ago, in January 2017.

“We are very pleased to have received Orphan Drug Designation from the FDA for BB-301, as it is another significant step forward for a key program in our pipeline,” Greg West, CEO of Benitec, said in a press release.

“We believe BB-301 represents a promising new approach for the treatment of OPMD and has the potential to make a meaningful impact for patients who have this debilitating disease,” he said. “The Benitec team is focused on executing our plan to advance BB-301 into human clinical trials by the end of 2018.”

Benitec completed pre-Investigational New Drug (pre-IND) application meetings with the FDA, EMA and Health Canada last year. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the regulatory strategy for BB-301 as a treatment for OPMD and to ensure Benitec’s development program addressed the agencies’ expectations and requirements.

“We also believe this program, if successful, can act as a proof of concept for using our groundbreaking ‘silence and replace’ technology for other therapeutic targets potentially expanding market opportunities for Benitec and paving the way for the development of other monogenic orphan disease programs in the future,” West said.

Benitec is currently conducting preclinical and safety studies of BB-301, and plans to file a full IND application with the FDA in the final quarter of 2018.


  1. Jacqueline Seaton says:

    This is such good news and gives us hope that we may be cured of OPMD. I was diagnosed 4 years ago and have been following Benitec closely. I desperately hope that the trials will be successful.

      • Jacqueline Seaton says:

        Hi Annette

        Sorry for the delay in replying – if you are still following this site I would be pleased to be in contact with you. I am based in the UK,in Berkshire.

    • Peter says:

      Me too. I was diagnosed with OPMD about three years ago. I’ve had bilateral ptosis correction and while I have classic OPMD dysphagia and dysphonia I’ve so far never experienced aspirational pneumonia. I only read about Benitec today and I’ve followed BioPharma’s Cabaletta trials which look promising. A lot depends on whether the UK NHS will fund any medication. At this moment then, I’m optimistic but cautious.

      The UK muscular dystrophy group seems a decent group to deal with even though they don’t have much experience with OPMD. My neurologist has only diagnosed three cases in his twenty years as a consultant and told me I know much more about it than he does.

  2. Annette Johnson says:

    This is great news! I was diagnosed a year ago although I have known for many years that I suffered from the same disease my grandmother and some of her siblings suffered from, as well as my mother and my uncle. It was heartbreaking watching them go through it including early death from it.
    Now my older sister and I have both been diagnosed with it. She is twelve years older than me and her disease is much more advanced. We were hoping to get in on clinical trials for another treatment that was blocked by the FDA this past year. This gives us hope that we may be able to do something within our lifetime and hope for our children!

  3. terry ouellette says:

    I was diagnosed with opmd 5 yrs ago and have been holding out hope for something to give me my life back.Would you please keep me informed as to progress and availability of this treatment.
    Thank You,
    Terry O.

  4. Phil Osborne says:

    I have not been diagnosed. I believe I have it because 4 people on my maternal side of the family had all of the symptoms and passed away about a year after they were put on swallowing tubes. I had to have eyelid surgery 3 years ago.I am having sever problems with GERD.
    When I ask the University of Kentucky Health Care Gastrologist to test me for OPMD his reply was how do you even test for that. The only treatment they are giving me is for Acid Reflux. I sleep every night with my head elevated and still wake up with acid in my throat. I have lost 18 lbs. in the last 9 months most of that is muscle.

  5. Emanuel H. says:

    My father was diagnosed with OPMD 8 years ago and the disease mostly interrupt his walking ability.
    I am wondering what is the current status of the research and do you intend to perform any tests in Israel.

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