Lung Treatments Slow Damage From Fatal Lung Disease in Studies

May 18, 2014 9:29 pm ET

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- Drugs made by Intermune Inc. and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH slowed progression of a lung disease with no cure that often kills people three to five years after diagnosis, according to findings reported by two studies.

Intermune’s pirfenidone and nintedanib, made by closely held Boehringer Ingelheim, don’t reverse damage from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung-scarring disease whose cause is unknown. Instead, they are the first to show progress in slowing the disease’s ability of patient breathing, according to reports in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The two studies were separate, and each was funded by the companies that developed the treatment. Intermune announced on May 16 it would give its medicine to some U.S. patients at no cost, a decision that may help kickstart sales of its product. Neither treatment is approved for sale yet by U.S. regulators.

’’In contrast to most cancers, there has been limited, and sometimes conflicting evidence that any drug could alter the course of this disease,’’ wrote Gary M. Hunninghake, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in an accompanying editorial. “The game has now changed.”

IPF has been diagnosed in about 128,000 Americans, with about 40,000 people dying from the disease each year, according to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, a non-profit patient support group based in Washington.

The disease causes tissue deep in the lungs to become increasingly thick and stiff, or scarred, over time, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. When that happens, it inhibits the ability of the lungs to move oxygen into the bloodstream, limiting the amount that gets to the brain and other organ. It’s a malady mostly found in middle-aged and older adults.

The medicine made by Brisbane, California-based Intermune was rejected in 2010 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who asked for a new trial to prove it works. In February, the company said it plans to file for U.S. clearance early in the third quarter based on its latest research.