Wilson disease—treatment perspectives

Tomasz Litwin, Karolina Dzieżyc, Anna Członkowska


Wilson disease (WD) is a genetic disorder caused by pathological tissue copper accumulation with secondary damage of affected organs (mainly, but not limited to, the liver and brain). The main clinical symptoms of WD are, in concordance with the pathogenesis, hepatic and/or neuropsychiatric. Current treatment options for WD, based on drugs leading to negative copper body balance like chelators or zinc salts, were introduced more than 40 years ago and are generally effective in the majority of WD cases if used lifelong. However, especially in neurological patients, treatment may lead to neurological deterioration, which is often irreversible. Further, almost 50% of neurologically affected WD patients present with persistent neurological deficits despite the use of anti-copper treatment. In addition, up to 30% of patients treated with the widely used drug, d-penicillamine, present with adverse events related to treatment, which often leads to treatment discontinuation. Finally, almost 25% of WD patients do not adhere with anti-copper treatment, partially due to drug-related adverse events and complex treatment regimens (3 times daily, before meals, etc.). These limitations with current treatments have led to the search for other WD treatment possibilities. Currently, research is mainly focused on: (I) new agents with better safety profiles and less neurological deterioration properties compared with traditional chelators, e.g., tetrathiomolybdate salts or central nervous system—penetrable trientine, with the aim to provide more effective copper removal from brain tissue; (II) other non-chelating drugs that lead to removal of copper from cells [e.g., methanobactin (currently in preclinical studies)]; (III) cell and gene therapy. In this article, current research on future treatments for WD is reviewed.