Science Daily—March 28, 2011
"This trial showed Gleevec has acceptable safety and tolerability, and there are hints of efficacy or suggestions the drug may work," said Robert Spiera, M.D., an associate attending rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery who led the study. "This study strongly suggests that a randomized placebo-controlled trial is warranted." The study appears Online First in advance of print in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
To date, there has never been a drug that has been shown to be effective for scleroderma. For the study, investigators at Hospital for Special Surgery enrolled 30 patients with diffuse scleroderma, a widespread severe form of the disease, and gave them 400 mg of Gleevec per day. Patients were evaluated monthly for 12 months during treatment and were seen for follow-up three months after discontinuing the drug.
In the publication, researchers reported the final analysis of the Phase II trial data. Twenty-four of the patients completed 12 months of therapy. At one year, investigators saw a 22 percent improvement in skin scores and a 6.4 percent improvement in forced vital capacity scores. Diffusion capacity scores were stable. Dr. Spiera pointed out that in patients with scleroderma, lung function tests often get worse over time, so he was pleased with the results.
"I would be guarded to say that this drug works, because sometimes patients with scleroderma can get better on their own, especially if they have later disease, but our trial enrolled both patients with early and late disease and the early-stage disease patients also showed improvement," Dr. Spiera said. He said the findings of his open-label study need to be interpreted cautiously, and ultimately corroborated by evidence from a randomized, Phase III controlled trial.
The investigators suspected a longer duration of therapy would be necessary to see a benefit from the drug because it is an anti-fibrotic intervention, meaning it acts on the tissue, rather than an anti-inflammatory intervention, but the length of the therapy does limit the study's conclusions. "We recognize that some patients improve over time and the longer duration of therapy might have artificially led us to see a benefit that wasn't really from the drug," Dr. Spiera said. "That is always the criticism of any open-label trial in scleroderma, but you have to do an open-label trial before you can do a randomized trial." Still, he said, he was optimistic that the drug would show positive results in a Phase III trial.
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