Medical Need and Market Opportunity
ACLF occurs in patients who have compensated or decompensated cirrhosis but are usually relatively stable. In these patients, some acute event sets off a rapid deterioration of liver function. The cause of this acute episode of decompensation may include toxins, such as alcohol, metabolic abnormalities and infections. The morbidity and mortality of patients with ACLF is high, and approximately 45% of the patient population that we intend to treat will die or develop multi-organ failure as a result of the decompensation episode within 28 days of hospitalization. We estimate that there are 150,000 patients in the United States and the EU diagnosed with symptoms consistent with our target population in ACLF. According to a 2011 publication in the Journal of Hepatology, the in-hospital mortality rate for these acute deteriorating patients is greater than 50% and the total annual charges associated with ICU admissions alone are $3 billion, equating to a mean charge of $116,000 per admission.
Liver function in ACLF patients deteriorates rapidly. At the time of hospitalization, patients may present with MELD scores such as those seen on the transplant waiting list. Although the exact mechanisms remain unclear, massive liver cell loss involving excessive apoptosis and necrosis are known contributing factors leading to progressive dysfunction. There is evidence that serum markers of caspase-driven apoptosis such as cCK18 are elevated in these patients. In addition, independent studies have shown that increased cCK18 levels in this patient population are associated with worse prognosis.
The rapid deterioration in liver function, which may be exacerbated by an altered immune response, leads to life-threatening complications such as renal failure, increased susceptibility to infection, hepatic coma and systemic hemodynamic dysfunction. Current goals of the medical treatment for ACLF are to reverse precipitating factors, support failing organs and prevent further deterioration in liver function in order to give the liver time to repair. Medical intervention for ACLF involves treatment of the underlying cause of the acute event. Patients who progress to multi-organ failure may require specific therapies for this such as medications for cardiac failure, mechanical ventilation for respiratory failure or dialysis for renal failure. Liver transplantation is required in some subjects to improve survival and quality of life. There are currently no approved therapies with a specific indication for the treatment of ACLF, and to our knowledge there are only a limited number of clinical studies currently being conducted in patients with either liver cirrhosis or liver failure. We believe the ACLF population is in high medical need of an efficacious and well-tolerated therapy to prevent progression to multi-organ failure and, ultimately, premature death.