News from the FDA/CDC

Systemic sclerosis patients share their perspectives and needs in treatment trials



Patients with systemic sclerosis have variable disease progression but often experience debilitating fatigue, pain, and digestive issues – and they’re extremely concerned about progressive organ damage, according to those who spoke at and provided input at a public meeting on patient-focused drug development for the disease.

FDA icon Wikimedia Commons/FitzColinGerald/ Creative Commons License

The virtual meeting was part of the Food and Drug Administration’s Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) initiative, which began in 2012 and aims to provide a systematic way for patients’ experiences, needs, and priorities to be “captured and meaningfully incorporated” into drug development and evaluation.

Patients rate their most impactful symptoms

Dinesh Khanna, MBBS, MSc, a rheumatologist who directs a scleroderma research program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, attended the meeting after giving an opening presentation on the disease to FDA officials, patients, and other participants. In a later interview, he said that patients’ ratings of their most impactful symptoms was especially striking.

Dr. Dinesh Khanna, rheumatologist and director of the scleroderma research program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Dr. Dinesh Khanna

Raynaud’s phenomenon, digestive symptoms, and fatigue were the top three answers to a poll question that asked patients what symptom had the most significant impact on daily life, he noted, “and none of these are being [strongly] addressed right now [in clinical trials] apart from Raynaud’s phenomenon, for which there are some trials ongoing.”

He and other researchers are “struggling with what outcomes measures to use [in their studies],” said Dr. Khanna, the Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of Rheumatology at the University. “My takeaway from the meeting as a clinical trialist is that we should be paying close attention to the symptoms that patients tell us are the most important. We should be including these in our trial designs as secondary endpoints, if not primary endpoints. We have not done that [thus far], really.”

Approximately 200,000 patients in the United States have scleroderma, and approximately 75,000-80,000 of these patients have systemic scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, Dr. Khanna said in his opening presentation. Each year, he estimates, about 6,000 new diagnoses of systemic sclerosis are made.

More than 200 people – patients, FDA officials, and others – participated in the PFDD meeting. Patients participated in one of two panels – one focused on health effects and daily impacts, and the other on treatments – or submitted input electronically. All were invited to answer poll questions.

Raj Nair, MD, one of eight FDA leaders attending the meeting, noted in closing remarks that the pain experienced by patients with systemic sclerosis includes severe pain from Raynaud’s phenomenon and pain caused by digital ulcers and by calcinosis. “We heard about how paralyzing the pain from calcinosis is, and that there are very few options for alleviating this pain,” said Dr. Nair, of the division of rheumatology and transplant medicine.

Another takeaway, he said, is that the “fatigue can be severe and debilitating, leading to days where it is impossible to get out of bed,” and that digestive symptoms can also be severe. “Reflux,” he noted, “requires significant medical intervention.”


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