BACKGROUND: Phenylketonuria is an inherited disease caused by impaired activity of phenylalanine hydroxylase, the enzyme that converts phenylalanine to tyrosine, leading to accumulation of phenylalanine and subsequent neurocognitive dysfunction. Phenylalanine ammonia lyase is a prokaryotic enzyme that converts phenylalanine to ammonia and trans-cinnamic acid. We aimed to assess the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetic characteristics, and efficacy of recombinant Anabaena variabilis phenylalanine ammonia lyase (produced in Escherichia coli) conjugated with polyethylene glycol (rAvPAL-PEG) in reducing phenylalanine concentrations in adult patients with phenylketonuria. METHODS: In this open-label, phase 1, multicentre trial, single subcutaneous injections of rAvPAL-PEG were given in escalating doses (0.001, 0.003, 0.010, 0.030, and 0.100 mg/kg) to adults with phenylketonuria. Participants aged 18 years or older with blood phenylalanine concentrations of 600 mumol/L or higher were recruited from among patients attending metabolic disease clinics in the USA. The primary endpoints were safety and tolerability of rAvPAL-PEG. Secondary endpoints were the pharmacokinetic characteristics of the drug and its effect on concentrations of phenylalanine. Participants and investigators were not masked to assigned dose group. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00925054. FINDINGS: 25 participants were recruited from seven centres between May 6, 2008, and April 15, 2009, with five participants assigned to each escalating dose group. All participants were included in the safety population. The most frequently reported adverse events were injection-site reactions and dizziness, which were self-limited and without sequelae. Two participants had serious adverse reactions to intramuscular medroxyprogesterone acetate, a drug that contains polyethylene glycol as an excipient. Three of five participants given the highest dose of rAvPAL-PEG (0.100 mg/kg) developed a generalised skin rash. By the end of the study, all participants had developed antibodies against polyethylene glycol, and some against phenylalanine ammonia lyase as well. Drug concentrations peaked about 89-106 h after administration of the highest dose. Treatment seemed to be effective at reducing blood phenylalanine in all five participants who received the highest dose (mean reduction of 54.2% from baseline), with a nadir about 6 days after injection and an inverse correlation between drug and phenylalanine concentrations in plasma. Phenylalanine returned to near-baseline concentrations about 21 days after the injection. INTERPRETATION: Subcutaneous administration of rAvPAL-PEG in a single dose of up to 0.100 mg/kg was fairly safe and well tolerated in adult patients with phenylketonuria. At the highest dose tested, rAvPAL-PEG reduced blood phenylalanine concentrations. In view of the development of antibodies against polyethylene glycol (and in some cases against phenylalanine ammonia lyase), future studies are needed to assess the effect of repeat dosing. FUNDING: BioMarin Pharmaceutical.