Objective To assess the efficacy of recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Methods Patients with probable laboratory-supported, probable or definite ALS were enrolled by 25 Italiancentres and randomly assigned (1:1) to receive intravenous rhEPO 40 000 IU or placebo fortnightly as add-on treatment to riluzole 100 mg daily for 12 months. The primary composite outcome was survival, tracheotomy or >23 h non-invasive ventilation (NIV). Secondary outcomes were ALSFRS-R, slow vital capacity (sVC) and quality of life (ALSAQ-40) decline. Tolerability was evaluated analysing adverse events (AEs) causing withdrawal. The randomisation sequence was computer-generated by blocks, stratified by centre, disease severity (ALSFRS-R cut-off score of 33) and onset (spinal or bulbar). The main outcome analysis was performed in all randomised patients and by intentionto-treat for the entire population and patients stratified by severity and onset. The study is registered, EudraCT 2009-016066-91. Results We randomly assigned 208 patients, of whom 5 (1 rhEPO and 4 placebo) withdrew consent and 3 ( placebo) became ineligible (retinal thrombosis, respiratory insufficiency, SOD1 mutation) before receiving treatment; 103 receiving rhEPO and 97 placebo were eligible for analysis. At 12 months, the annualised rate of death (rhEPO 0.11, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.20; placebo: 0.08, CI 0.04 to 0.17), tracheotomy or >23 h NIV (rhEPO 0.16, CI 0.10 to 0.27; placebo 0.18, CI 0.11 to 0.30) did not differ between groups, also after stratification by onset and ALSFRS-R at baseline. Withdrawal due to AE was 16.5% in rhEPO and 8.3% in placebo. No differences were found for secondary outcomes. Conclusions RhEPO 40 000 IU fortnightly did not change the course of ALS.