"It has taken this long -- 11, 12 years -- for it to reach the stage of phase III. I'm quite pleased that a drug of potential efficacy or anti-fibrotic effect is used for IPF. The Japanese trial is encouraging," said Raghu, who is also professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Washington.
Still, he stressed that the population used in the Japanese trial may not represent the full spectrum of IPF patients, so it's too early to tell if pirfenidone will work for everyone with the disease. A larger, multi-center trial using the drug is currently under way in Europe and North America, with results expected later this year.
"Until further studies that enroll large number of patients and include all spectrum of patients with IPF, we cannot extrapolate the findings to the entire patient population with IPF," Raghu said.
He also cautioned that pirfenidone has not yet been approved for use against any medical condition by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning that IPF patients can only get the medicine by participating in a clinical trial.
And while pirfenidone may slow the progression of IPF, it does not stop it, Shreve noted.
"If this drug works out, that's fantastic, but it's still not a cure," Shreve said. "With a cure -- that's when we'll be really excited."
To learn more about IPF, visit the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis.
SOURCES: Mark Shreve, founder and chief operating officer, Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, San Jose, Calif; Ganesh Raghu, M.D., professor, medicine and laboratory medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine, and director, Interstitial Lung Disease/Sarcoid/Pulmonary Fibrosis Program, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle; May 20, 2008, presentation, American Thoracic Society's annual meeting, Toronto