The question of which new treatments for COPD are being developed and when they will be available, is of concern to many who are living with this chronic condition. In the U.S, COPD is the third largest cause of death and with no cure in sight, the numbers are always rising. When we talk about the development of new medications, much of the delay between their being announced and their being prescribed is down to the lengthy period of research needed. This is vital to ensure that a treatment is safe, but can slow down the hunt for a cure or a more effective form of relief.
If new drugs used to treat COPD are to become available on the market, the manufacturers are obliged to follow a range of protocols. The most time consuming of these is testing. Extensive trials are put in place in which researchers and specialists can verify key points of concern. Firstly, investigators must learn which amount of the product can be given at a safe dosage, secondly, any side effects must be recorded, and thirdly, any possible reactions to other medications must also be noted. These are just a few of the numerous checks which need to be performed, but of course, a group of test patients is needed to do so.
All new COPD medication is tested on people who have agreed to participate in the trial, but finding them and ensuring the environment remains safe for everyone concerned is a lengthy and expensive process. Known as a cohort, the set of people who will eventually try out the new drug can take up to twelve months to recruit. On average, it takes twelve years for a drug to leave the laboratory in which it was developed, be tested on a cohort group and be available at your chemist. Furthermore, only a tiny percentage of new drugs, around 5 out of every 5000, make it to human trials.
In the U.S, when a new COPD treatment inhaler or tablet has been thoroughly studied, the resulting data is handed to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In their laboratories, experts will go over the facts and figures produced, then choose to either approve it immediately, ask for more documentation, or suggest more testing is carried out. Finally, a public hearing will be arranged at which the findings are reviewed and the decision to deny or approve the treatment is announced.
No one wants to see unsafe or ineffective drugs being fast-tracked into our lives, but the need for advanced COPD treatment is pressing. The government and the pharmaceuticals industry shoulder most of the responsibility, but patients too can become involved in finding better treatments. One way of making sure your experiences and opinions count is to join a large registry, like the COPD Patient-Powered Research Network. This organization is run and maintained by people who are patients and their families, it has more than 75,000 members, all of whom are living with COPD. They work together to share details of their health and how the condition affects their lives. The data that each individual provides is carefully stored in the network’s files and made available for research purposes. It is hoped that this information will help scientists in their quest for new treatments.