NHLBI Stops Study Of Pulmonary Hypertension Treatment
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health has stopped a clinical trial testing a drug treatment for pulmonary hypertension in adults with sickle cell disease nearly one year early due to safety concerns. In an interim review of safety data from 33 participants who completed 16 weeks of treatment, researchers found that, compared to participants on placebo (dummy pill), participants taking sildenafil (Revatio) were significantly more likely to have serious medical problems. The most common problem was episodes of severe pain called sickle cell crises, which resulted in hospitalization. No deaths have been associated with the drug in the clinical trial.
Known as walk-PHaSST, the study was the first multicenter, randomized clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of sildenafil for pulmonary hypertension in patients with sickle cell disease, one of the most common genetic blood disorders in the United States. Pulmonary hypertension is a debilitating condition of high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood to the lungs, which can lead to heart failure and death. Approximately 30 percent of sickle cell disease patients develop pulmonary hypertension, and even mild levels of pulmonary hypertension have been associated with sudden death in people with sickle cell disease.
"The increase in sickle cell medical problems is concern enough for us to stop this clinical trial to protect the safety of our participants," said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. "We will continue to look into the possible causes of these preliminary results. In the meantime, we encourage patients with sickle cell disease who are taking sildenafil for pulmonary hypertension to talk with their physicians about the potential risks and benefits of the medication and what actions they should consider, including whether to taper off this medication and how to best manage both sickle cell disease and pulmonary hypertension."
Because the medical problems experienced in walk-PHaSST were complications specific to sickle cell disease, "The findings of the walk-PHaSST study should not be applied to other groups of patients with pulmonary hypertension where the drug has been found to be safe and effective," Nabel added.
Researchers are conducting extensive analyses of the study results, which could contribute to recommendations for treating pulmonary hypertension in patients with sickle cell disease. They will prepare reports of their research for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
The NHLBI stopped the study on July 7, 2009, based on the unanimous recommendations of the Pulmonary Complications of Sickle Cell Disease Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), an independent advisory group that has been monitoring the study since it began. This DSMB is composed of experts in sickle cell disease, lung disease, statistics, and bioethics.
Participants in walk-PHaSST have discussed the preliminary findings of the study with their study clinicians. They have been instructed to taper sildenafil treatment over a period of three to seven days to minimize problems associated with immediate withdrawal from the drug, such as worsening of symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. Researchers will continue to monitor participants and conduct further analyses to assess the findings.
Walk-PHaSST was designed to determine whether sildenafil lessens the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, such as shortness of breath, by improving heart and lung function, in individuals with sickle cell disease who develop pulmonary hypertension. The primary outcome measure was the results of a six-minute walk test, a standard indicator of a person's heart and lung function. Hence, the name walk-PHaSST reflects the primary test used to assess effectiveness of the treatment ("walk" test) for Pulmonary Hypertension and Sickle Cell Disease with Sildenafil Therapy. Researchers also evaluated the safety of the drug for sickle cell disease patients through reports of adverse effects and laboratory tests.
Sildenafil is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in patients with pulmonary hypertension. In general, the drug treats pulmonary hypertension by relaxing the blood vessels in the lungs to allow blood to flow more easily. Since sildenafil is not FDA-approved to treat pulmonary hypertension in patients with sickle cell disease, the walk-PHaSST study was conducted under an investigational new drug application. The FDA was notified of the termination of the study on July 14.
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