First, do no harm: Study finds danger in standard treatment for a serious lung disease

Kara Gavin
EurekAlert

A combination of three drugs used worldwide as the standard of care for a serious lung disease puts patients in danger of death or hospitalization, and should not be used together to treat the disease, called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, according to the surprising results of a rigorous independent study.

The study, which will appear online May 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society, was conducted by IPF Clinical Research Network, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

“The findings show the importance of testing even those treatments that doctors give routinely for any type of condition — to see if they truly help, and don’t harm, patients,” says University of Michigan Health System lung specialist Fernando Martinez, M.D., who will present the results.

Martinez and his colleagues report that patients in the mild to moderate stages of the progressive lung-scarring disease had a far higher chance of dying or being hospitalized if they were taking a three-drug combination used worldwide, compared with those taking a placebo.

What’s more, the three-drug combo yielded no improvement in lung function, or even slowing of loss of lung function, compared with placebo. Results from a group taking the single drug, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), are still being gathered and analyzed.

This evidence is from a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, federally funded trial that included patients with a definitive diagnosis of IPF who were treated at 25 centers taking part in the IPF Clinical Research Network or IPFNet. The study was stopped early when an interim analysis showed signs of harm from the three-drug combination of prednisone, azathioprine and NAC.

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