DALLAS (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – The Food and Drug Administration is keenly seeking patient-reported outcomes as endpoints in cardiovascular drug or device trials, particularly for heart failure patients, but the bar remains high for getting such an outcome into labeling, said agency officials who regulate cardiovascular disease therapies.

The FDA issued guidance nearly 8 years ago on how to integrate patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures into medical product development, but so far no heart failure drug nor device has met the agency’s standards for documented success in improving a PRO, despite the clear need for these patients to receive patient-centered care, clinicians said.

“We don’t yet have a patient-reported outcome in a label for heart failure,” Paul A. Heidenreich, MD , said during a session on PROs at the annual scientific meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America. He voiced hope that a PRO might end up on the label of a heart failure drug or device sometime in 2018. “Almost half of FDA submissions now include a PRO” as part of the data package, added Dr. Heidenreich, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University.

For years, PROs for heart failure weren’t often used in trials, and they remain largely absent from routine practice – an absence Dr. Heidenreich lamented. “Just focusing on mortality in heart failure is really not patient centered,” he said.

Heart failure physicians “are very good at disease-centered care” that focuses on survival and reducing hospitalizations, but “survival is often not as important to patients,” noted Mary Norine Walsh, MD , medical director of the heart failure and cardiac transplantation program at St. Vincent Medical Group in Indianapolis. She suggested “tailoring treatment to improve patient symptoms, physical function, and quality of life” without necessarily reducing hospital readmissions or increasing survival rates. “Self-reported measures have more meaning for patients,” she said, and called for using PROs to better target interventions to the patients who can most benefit from them.

Two FDA representatives who spoke during the session agreed on the importance of PROs and attested to the agency’s interest in greater reliance on them.

“PROs are a critical complement to the other measures made in device trials,” said Bram Zuckerman, MD , director of the FDA’s division of cardiovascular devices. “We need PRO information because it reflects important aspects of patients’ health-related quality of life.”

The most commonly used PRO measures in device trials today are the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000 Apr; 35[5]:1245-55 ) and the Minnesota Living With Heart Failure questionnaire , he noted.

“Neither is perfect, but there is a track record in heart failure device development that these two PROs can be helpful.” The FDA’s cardiovascular device division “wants to use PRO information,” Dr. Zuckerman said.

“All-cause mortality is the most unbiased endpoint, but there is interest in PROs,” agreed Ebony Dashiell-Aje, PhD , from the FDA’s office of new drugs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. She highlighted the encouragement that the FDA gave to drug and device developers to include PROs in trials, both in its 2009 guidance document as well as in a “ roadmap ” from the agency on how to measure PROs in clinical trials. “Unfortunately, in heart failure we struggle to find tools that can adequately measure the patient’s perspective and be sensitive enough to detect a treatment benefit,” she said.

Norman Stockbridge, MD , director of the division of cardiovascular and renal products in the agency’s Office of Drug Evaluation, cited even bigger barriers to FDA approval of PROs as labeled effects from drugs or devices.

Getting a PRO endpoint supported by clinical-trial results that qualify it for an FDA label faces two big challenges. One challenge, he said, is “how much of an effect we need to see in a complex scoring algorithm to know that patients actually received some benefit in a disease that often varies from day to day and from week to week.” The second challenge is that, “in a disease with a high background rate of bad outcomes, you need some evidence that the benefit [from the treatment] is worth any risk,” which is something that can be hard to prove in heart failure when many patients don’t live more than 2 years with the disease, Dr. Stockbridge said in an interview.

“You need to be able to make the argument that the [PRO] benefit is likely perceptible to patients, but that is only half the problem. The other half is whether the developer can rule out that survival is not less than it would have been with no treatment. If patients take this, will they feel better but have a greater risk of being hurt?”

So far, no drug or device developer has succeeded in proving this to the FDA, despite the agency’s 2009 guidance on how it could be done.

That guidance “is one of the two worst and most destructive guidance documents we ever published,” Dr. Stockbridge declared.

Dr. Walsh, Dr. Heidenreich, Dr. Zuckerman, Dr. Dashiell-Aje, and Dr. Stockbridge had no relevant disclosures.

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