Sally Okun reports back from the FDA Patient-Focused Drug Development Public Meeting on IPF

Posted October 16th, 2014 by

On September 26th I was at the FDA for the Patient-Focused Drug Development Public Meeting on IPF. This is one of 20 meetings that the FDA is holding to learn directly from patients and their caregivers about daily life with the specific condition’s symptoms and treatments. (You can learn more about these meetings here.) I have attended a number of these meetings and often have meaningful data to share from our own PatientsLikeMe members. So far, however, the FDA has only allowed patients and caregivers to present and participate as panelists.

So to get as much of our members’ real-world health data in front of the FDA as possible, I take full advantage of the public comment period at the end of each meeting. It’s a short 3-5 minutes of time, but it’s a chance to share insights from PatientsLikeMe members and to reflect on some of what’s been discussed during the public meeting. In addition, we submit a full report to the FDA’s public docket that is open for comment two full months following the meeting. The report includes a community profile and the results of any polls PatientsLikeMe members have taken part in prior to the meeting.

This meeting was different
It was my pleasure and privilege to meet and spend time with a member of our PatientsLikeMe community who was selected by the FDA to be one of the panelists. LaurCT did an amazing job sharing her challenge in getting an accurate diagnosis – which took a number of years. She also shared with the FDA and all the folks in the room that she did not learn about the Center of Excellence for IPF located only an hour from her home from her now former pulmonologist after finally getting the diagnosis of IPF – she learned about it from other IPF patients on PatientsLikeMe. (Thank you for sharing Laura!)

Many in the room acknowledged that a cure may not be found in their lifetime but they also conveyed to the FDA a palpable sense of urgency for treatments to slow the progression of the disease to reduce their symptom burden and increase their ability to participate more fully in life. What was startling was how often people shared how the lack of knowledge about IPF among physicians – even among pulmonary specialists – led to delays in their diagnosis and for some resulted in misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

One specialist, Dr. David Lederer, co-director of the interstitial lung disease program at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and well known to many patients in the room for his work in IPF, used his few minutes in the public comment period to call for therapies that help his patients “live longer, healthier, more normal and independent lives.” He provocatively said that “oxygen should be free” and called for more study of the benefits of oxygen combined with exercise which today are the only things that help people with IPF actually feel better. This was borne out in our poll as well.

A family thing
In addition, there is an important familial connection that many feel is not getting sufficient attention in research. One woman shared her family’s story starting with her father’s diagnosis and death followed by the deaths of each of his 4 brothers of the same disease. A number of people talked about family members who died over the years with similar respiratory symptoms and questioned whether they in fact may have died of undiagnosed IPF.

Your voices transformed
While the opportunity for patients to be heard cannot be diminished, I along with others in policy and advocacy circles remain concerned by the anecdotal nature of these FDA proceedings. At each meeting, there are a few polling questions with audience clicker devices, but there is no systematic way of transforming the very powerful patient narratives that are shared into meaningful and usable data. At PatientsLikeMe, your stories and your voices are best amplified and speak most loudly when transformed into data that is both meaningful and measureable.

All that said, it’s worth watching the free webcasts of the meeting, which you can find here.

PatientsLikeMe member SallyOkun

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