Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

IMPORTANCE: A major challenge for drug development in neurodegenerative diseases is that adequately powered efficacy studies with meaningful end points typically require several hundred participants and long durations. Prion diseases represent the archetype of brain diseases caused by protein misfolding, the most common subtype being sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), a rapidly progressive dementia. There is no well-established trial method in prion disease. OBJECTIVE: To establish a more powerful and meaningful clinical trial method in sCJD. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: A stratified medicine and simulation approach based on a prospective interval-cohort study conducted from October 2008 to June 2014. This study involved 598 participants with probable or definite sCJD followed up over 470 patient-years at a specialist national referral service in the United Kingdom with domiciliary, care home, and hospital patient visits. We fitted linear mixed models to the outcome measurements, and simulated clinical trials involving 10 to 120 patients (no dropouts) with early to moderately advanced prion disease using model parameters to compare the power of various designs. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: A total of 2681 assessments were done using a functionally orientated composite end point (Medical Research Council Scale) and associated with clinical investigations (brain magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis) and molecular data (prion protein [PrP] gene sequencing, PrPSc type). RESULTS: Of the 598 participants, 273 were men. The PrP gene sequence was significantly associated with decline relative to any other demographic or investigation factors. Patients with sCJD and polymorphic codon 129 genotypes MM, VV, and MV lost 10% of their function in 5.3 (95% CI, 4.2-6.9), 13.2 (95% CI, 10.9-16.6), and 27.8 (95% CI, 21.9-37.8) days, respectively (P < .001). Simulations indicate that an adequately powered (80%; 2-sided α = .05) open-label randomized trial using 50% reduction in Medical Research Council Scale decline as the primary outcome could be conducted with only 120 participants assessed every 10 days and only 90 participants assessed daily, providing considerably more power than using survival as the primary outcome. Restricting to VV or MV codon 129 genotypes increased power even further. Alternatively, single-arm intervention studies (half the total sample size) could provide similar power in comparison to the natural history cohort. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Functional end points in neurodegeneration need not require long and very large clinical studies to be adequately powered for efficacy. Patients with sCJD may be an efficient and cost-effective group for testing disease-modifying therapeutics. Stratified medicine and natural history cohort approaches may transform the feasibility of clinical trials in orphan diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


JAMA Neurol

Publication Date





447 - 455


Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Clinical Trials as Topic, Cohort Studies, Computer Simulation, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Syndrome, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Prospective Studies, Treatment Outcome, United Kingdom