Objective: To assess pain outcomes and cartilage thickness change in a subgroup at risk (SAR) of further progression in the FORWARD trial of knee osteoarthritis patients treated with sprifermin.

Methods: Patients were randomised 1:1:1:1:1 to: sprifermin 100 µg every 6 months (q6mo), 100 µg q12mo, 30 µg q6mo, 30 µg q12mo, or placebo for 18 months. SAR was defined as baseline medial or lateral minimum joint-space width (mJSW) 1.5-3.5 mm and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) pain score 40-90 units. Follow-up to 3 years was included in the analysis. Treatment benefit was explored by repeated measures, linear dose-effect trends by timepoint.

Results: The SAR comprised 161 (29%) of 549 patients. Mean difference (95% CI) in WOMAC pain at year 3 for sprifermin 100 µg q6mo vs placebo SAR was -8.75 (-22.42, 4.92) for SAR vs 0.97 (-6.22, 8.16) for the intent-to-treat population. SAR placebo patients lost more cartilage over 2 years than the modified ITT (mITT) placebo arm (mean change from baseline, mm [SD]: -0.05 [0.10] vs -0.02 [0.07]). Net total femorotibial joint thickness gain with sprifermin 100 µg q6mo (adjusted mean difference from placebo [95% CI] was similar in the SAR and in the mITT group: 0.06 [0.01, 0.11] vs 0.05 [0.03, 0.07]).

Conclusions: Selection for low mJSW and moderate-to-high pain at baseline resulted in more rapid disease progression and demonstrated translation of structure modification (with maintained net benefit on total cartilage thickness) into symptomatic benefit. This subgroup may represent a target population for future trials.

Clinical trial registration: NCT01919164.