Conference Coverage

FDA urged to bring rheumatologists into gadolinium safety discussion



– The Food and Drug Administration’s updated safety warning about gadolinium-based contrast agents was dismissed as too little, too late during a postsession discussion at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Dr. Rachel L. Glaser, medical officer in the agency’s division of pulmonary, allergy, and rheumatology products Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Rachel L. Glaser

The class warning that “gadolinium is retained for months or years in brain, bone, and other organs,” a directive that a new patient medication guide be given to everyone before receiving a gadolinium-based contrast agent, and a request that manufacturers conduct human and animal studies to further assess the safety of these products, was highlighted at the FDA update session on safety issues in the treatment of rheumatic disease.

The request for further studies grew out of the FDA Advisory Committee on Medical Imaging’s Fall 2017 meeting, which concluded that, “based on available data, there is insufficient evidence of a causal relationship between adverse events and gadolinium retention and recommended the need for additional studies to inform regulatory action,” explained Rachel L. Glaser, MD, a medical officer in the agency’s division of pulmonary, allergy, and rheumatology products and a practicing rheumatologist.

Jonathan Kay, MD, rose from the audience to take the FDA to task for delegating matters related to gadolinium-based contrast agent safety to the radiologists comprising the Advisory Committee on Medical Imaging. “I think the FDA ought to bring this matter to a group of physicians who actually care for patients to get our input on this. Maybe the Arthritis Advisory Committee,” he said.

“It’s been known for more than 15 years that gadolinium deposits in the bone, and for more than 5 years that gadolinium deposits in the brain of patients who’ve received multiple magnetic resonance studies. I’m concerned that the FDA has this issue in the purview of the radiologists because radiologists administer these contrast agents and then don’t see the patients back in follow-up, whereas rheumatologists do,” noted Dr. Kay, professor of medicine and director of clinical research in rheumatology at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester.

He blasted the FDA’s call for further human and animal studies, noting “nephrogenic systemic fibrosis was the human experiment that was done with gadolinium contrast, showing that these agents, when they deposit in tissue, are extremely toxic. I can’t see other human studies being done to determine the potential consequences of these agents when they deposit long term in brain, bone, and other tissues. And the animal studies have already been done demonstrating the danger of these compounds. Might you take this out of the realm of radiologists and involve physicians who take care of patients chronically and observe the long-term consequences of these toxic effects?”

Dr. Glaser responded that the deliberations of the agency’s Advisory Committee on Medical Imaging are reviewed under the purview of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “That does include radiologists, but also other clinical reviewers of various backgrounds, including pharmacologists and toxicologists.”

Dr. Kay did not relent, further commenting that he has personally seen “over 150 patients with the devastating consequences of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.” He added that a prominent radiologist has stated in a public forum that the risk of getting injured from crossing the street is greater than that from getting an MRI with gadolinium. “That’s completely wrong,” he declared.

Dr. Glaser and Dr. Kay reported having no financial conflicts.

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