A Three Year, Multi-Million Dollar Roadmap to Accelerate Care and a Cure
Back in February of this year, we reported out on our annual strategic planning offsite. We reaffirmed our commitment to capitalizing upon the unprecedented current interest in myotonic dystrophy to improve quality of life for people living with the disease. We noted then that we would report back when we had a final 3-year plan to share with you.
The development of that plan has been our major focus for the past few months, and we are very pleased to communicate the results to you. MDF has pledged our resources to a number of significant initiatives developed to accelerate Care and a Cure for the next three years.
The goals for the next 3 years of work are aggressive:
- Drive community-wide access to high quality DM care and shorten the diagnostic odyssey via care standards, clinical networks and improved patient access
- Deepen and strengthen the academic research bench to support more DM scientific discovery
- Expand the drug development pipeline with additional industry participation and additional drug discovery-focused research
- Expedite the therapy approval process via a targeted and immediate education and outreach effort with legislators, regulators, and other federal agencies
- Lay the groundwork for patient access to approved therapies through outreach and activism with insurers
In the Care arena, MDF has identified a number of high impact initiatives to help achieve these goals, some of which we have described below.
There are currently no standards of care for treatment of myotonic dystrophy, and patients and family members often find themselves educating their physicians with regard to symptoms and treatment options. The lack of standardized care protocols also makes tracking the impact of potential therapies in trials more difficult, since it can be unclear what impacts to attribute to the therapy and what is due to differences in individual participants’ care and disease course.
MDF, members of our Scientific Advisory Board, the Centers for Disease Control and others will partner to create consensus-based Care Considerations that can be used by doctors, pharmaceutical companies and federal regulators reviewing potential therapies for approval until more rigorous and comprehensive Practice Parameters are developed. We are scheduling the development of final draft considerations for mid-2016.
Research Focused on Women & DM
In order to improve understanding of disease impacts, disease course and progression in women living with myotonic dystrophy, and improve the quality of care women receive, MDF will fund the research and publication of studies focused on how myotonic dystrophy affects women. An example of such studies is the recently study that examined how women with myotonic dystrophy (DM) are impacted by pregnancy.
Expanded Fellows Award Program
To attract and retain high quality young investigators, drive retention at clinical care and research sites, support senior DM investigators and their labs and improve the quality of care delivered to people living with DM, MDF will expand the Fellows program to include pre-doctoral students, clinical fellows and fellows identified by senior research leadership.
The fellows receive training in grant writing and travel funds to attend major meetings, in addition to funding for their research projects. Two former MDF fellows have now received faculty appointments in the field.
Certified Clinical Network
MDF will explore the need and opportunity to create certification standards and a process to certify clinical centers in order to identify and support centers of excellence for people and families living with myotonic dystrophy.
Expansion of Current Care Resources and Programming
MDF is working to expand the resources and support we offer to community members now, in order to make the quality of life of people living with DM the best it can be. To that end, we will launch additional regionally-based support groups, upload more recommendations on the Find A Doctor map, expand programming at the MDF Annual Conference, and much more. MDF will also undertake a significant Care programs assessment effort, including review of the MDF registry and a community survey, to identify new Care program needs and opportunities.
Most of the work in the research cure bucket is focused on making it as efficient and easy as possible for the scientific community to develop and test new drugs for myotonic dystrophy. This process is called “de-risking” and it is aimed squarely at making the numbers work for drug companies that are considering investing in the myotonic dystrophy space. For example, company X has developed an experimental compound that might help build new muscle. The company could test it on elderly people who lose muscle strength as they age, or test it in myotonic dystrophy - we want to give them every reason to choose myotonic dystrophy.
Myotonic Dystrophy Clinical Research Network Expansion
To this end, one major focus of MDF’s research plan is bolstering the capabilities of the Myotonic Dystrophy Clinical Research Network (DMCRN) - a network of six clinical sites launched in 2013 that are centrally coordinated to conduct research studies key to informing trial design and disease understanding, and to run multi-site clinical trials for myotonic dystrophy. We will do this by expanding the network from six sites to nine sites and providing the central coordinating center at the University of Rochester with additional resources for oversight and management.
This expansion is necessary to accommodate the larger clinical trials that will be required to approve a new drug for myotonic dystrophy. It will also help investigators gather data on the normal progression of the disease, which is needed to determine from a statistical standpoint how many people should be included in future clinical trials and what types of things we should measure to know if an experimental DM therapeutic is working.
Advocacy with Policymakers, Regulators & Insurers
While we are at it, we will also help to make the case to insurance companies and government health agencies that new treatments for myotonic dystrophy are cost effective and should be covered because the cost of not treating the disease is higher. To do this we will document the “burden” of myotonic dystrophy by researching the insurance claims data of many thousands of people who have been diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy and determining the average cost per year of the disease. Become an advocate now.
In the same vein, MDF will host a strategic workshop with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), researchers and companies interested in myotonic dystrophy therapy development later this year. Our objective in bringing these professionals together is to educate them on the specific challenges and complications of myotonic dystrophy in order to inform efforts to develop clinical trial endpoints, biomarkers and advance the discovery of new therapies. Ensuring that FDA regulators and companies understand how variable and multi-systemic this disease will help inform clinical trial design. Hearing from the FDA about the rigorous process involved in approving endpoints for trials will help researchers and companies best target their biomarker, endpoint and trial development efforts. At the workshop’s conclusion, our community should be better positioned for successful therapy development and clinical trial testing.
DM Prevalence Study
We are also launching a study to determine, not just the number of people who have been officially diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, but also how common the expanded repeat mutation is in the general population - we believe it’s likely that this study will show that myotonic dystrophy is more common than previously assumed because it often takes many years for people to receive an official diagnosis. If the disease is actually more common than thought this means that the burden associated with the disease will also higher. This information is a critical component to making the case for pharmaceutical company investment, insurance reimbursement and for policy making that affects the myotonic dystrophy community.
New Research Studies
In addition to the prevalence and burden of disease studies, we are also releasing requests for research proposals (RFPs) seeking researchers interested in identifying “biomarkers,” such as changes in blood proteins that would indicate how the disease progresses, and to developing new “endpoints,” or measurements that will demonstrate if an experimental therapeutic is working. Learn more about current research studies.
The research community has also emphasized the need to create a mouse that more realistically mimics the disease that we see in humans so that we can test therapeutic approaches quickly and efficiently - we will fund the creation of the new mouse this year.
We Need Your Help
These are some of the major initiatives MDF has launched or scheduled for the next three years. It is an ambitious and urgent array of work. You have a role to play in many of these efforts, including participating in research studies conducted through the DMCRN and other university centers, enrolling in DM patient registries, participating in surveys and helping advocate for specific legislation and initiatives that can help improve quality of life and drive therapy discovery forward.
Let us know if you would like more information or have comments on the strategic plan work described above, and please watch the Dispatch and our other communication for alerts regarding how you can support this work and other efforts on behalf of Care and a Cure. Together we will change the face of myotonic dystrophy.