Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that causes irreversible scarring of lung tissue, with most patients dying in periods ranging from a few months to a few years.
But at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center patients are now participating in tests of Pirfenidone, a drug that has shown promise in slowing the disease down.
Hospital officials said last week that the drug already is used in Japan, Canada and throughout much of Europe.
Hospital spokesman Michael Hinck said the study is being run under the combined efforts of Jamaica’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine and Department of Clinical Research.
A statement issued by the hospital also said JHMC is one of only a handful of hospitals in the region participating, and the only one in Queens.
Dr. Craig Thurm, director of JHMC’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine, said patients who join the study receive the drug for free and must participate in the research.
It is open to “most patients” with mild to moderate cases.
“It’s not a very common disease,” Thurm said. “It generally occurs in people over 50. Most of the patients are men and most have been smokers. I have a patient who has had it for 12 years.”
But others, he said, can die three months after diagnosis, and that the median period is about three years.
The hope is that the drug will show enough benefits in patients, including prolonging their lives, to get acceptance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Thurm said patients’ symptoms can be helped with oxygen, and that the FDA has approved Pirfenidone as a “breakthrough therapy” drug, in which evidence exists to show it offers improvement over existing treatments.
“It won’t repair damaged lung tissue — right now only a lung transplant will do that,” Thurm said. “The hope is that it can slow the progression of the disease and improve patients’ lives, because right now there is nothing else. There is no other approved treatment.”
And he said many people who are older and who are or have been smokers often have medical complications that make them unsuitable for transplants.
Thurm said that recent trials of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, were stopped earlier this year after they did not show appreciable results when compared to placebos in blind tests.
But he said IPF does not give patients inflamed lungs as they might get in other illnesses or by inhaling some toxic substances.
Pirfenidone is an anti-fibrotic, which he said doctors and the manufacturer hope slows the disease down.
Thurm and Hinck said JHMC is known enough in the medical community to have other hospitals and doctors refer their patients to the program.
“What we’re hoping for by publicizing this is reaching the patient who doesn’t know and asks his doctor about it,” Thurm said.
While the Pirfenidone study has moved beyond the placebo-blind test stage, Hinck and Thurm said the hospital also is participating in a drug study for a pulmonary condition that is in its early stages.
They also hope to get FDA approval of another lung-related “breakthrough” study in the immediate future.
“We could be conducting three separate studies,” Thurm said.