Conference Coverage

Families face challenges of gene therapy



– Gene therapy for the treatment of rare diseases continues to develop and new products are entering the pipeline; however, more work is needed to make the gene therapy experience easier on patients and their families, according to members of a panel at the NORD Rare Diseases & Orphan Product Breakthrough Summit, held by the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

Companies developing gene therapy cite their main challenges as identifying patients, developing clinical trials, coordinating treatment and supporting families, managing reimbursement, and manufacturing the treatment, said Mark Rothera, president and CEO of Orchard Therapeutics, developer of ex vivo autologous hematopoietic stem cell gene therapy.

For families of patients with rare diseases who are undergoing gene therapy, challenges include struggles such as language barriers, lack of wifi, and separation from other family members for extended periods, according to Amy Price, mother of a gene therapy recipient, as well as principal consultant to Rarallel and an advocate for metachromatic leukodystrophy.

Ms. Price cited a survey she conducted of families with children who underwent gene therapy. She collected data from 16 families about their initial visit as part of a gene therapy trial; the trials included 14 families in Milan; 1 in Bethesda, Md.; and 1 in Paris. The average age of the patients at the start of the trial was 3 years, with a range of 8 months to 11 years. The trials were conducted between 1990 and 2018.

Families participating in the trials spent an average of 5.5 months in the city where the trial was conducted, and an average of 48 days in an isolation ward with their child at the start of the study.

The five biggest challenges were financial well-being (cited by 60% of survey respondents), social isolation/being away from support system (60%), fear of the unknown/long-term treatment diagnosis (73%), family separation (67%), and caring for other children simultaneous during the trial period (60%).

In addition, patients averaged 12 follow-up visits, and the most common secondary challenges cited in the survey included time spent at the hospital, emotional and physical stress on the patient, fear of test results and outcomes, exhaustion, time away from work and school, and travel logistics.

Other stressors include language barriers and not being in children’s hospital, Ms. Price said.

Ms. Price proposed patient-focused solutions such as addressing cultural challenges, connecting families to local resources, and providing clinical follow-up locally to reduce the burden of travel to the trial site.

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