Clinical Alert from the NIH

25 October 2011 - 11:40am by Lynn Sette

Clinical Alert:
Commonly Used Three-drug Regimen for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Found Harmful
NIH Stops One Treatment Arm of Trial; Other Two Treatments to Continue

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has stopped one arm of a three arm multi-center, clinical trial studying treatments for the lung-scarring disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) for safety concerns. The trial found that people with IPF receiving a currently used triple-drug therapy consisting of prednisone, azathioprine, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC) had worse outcomes than those who received placebos or inactive substances.

"These findings underscore why treatments must be evaluated in a rigorous manner," said Susan B. Shurin, M.D., acting director of the NHLBI. "This combination therapy is widely used in patients with IPF, but has not previously been studied in direct comparison to a placebo for all three drugs."

The interim results from this study showed that compared to placebo, those assigned to triple therapy had greater mortality (11 percent versus 1 percent), more hospitalizations (29 percent versus 8 percent), and more serious adverse events (31 percent versus 9 percent) and also had no difference in lung function test changes. Participants randomly assigned to the triple- therapy arm also remained on their assigned treatment at a much lower rate (78 percent adherence versus 98 percent adherence).

"Anyone on some combination of these medications with questions or concerns should consult with their health care provider and not simply stop taking the drugs," said Ganesh Raghu, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle and a co-chair of this IPF study. "It is important to realize that these results definitively apply only to patients with well-defined IPF and not to people taking a combination of these drugs for other lung diseases or conditions.”