FDA Approves New Treatment for Adults with Cushing’s Disease
March 9, 2020
Rare Daily Staff
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Novartis’ Isturisa oral tablets for adults with Cushing’s disease who either cannot undergo pituitary gland surgery or have undergone the surgery but still have the disease.
Cushing’s disease is a rare disease caused by a pituitary tumor that causes the adrenal glands make too much of the cortisol hormone adrenocorticotropin. The disease is most common among adults between the ages of 30 to 50, and it affects women three times more often than men. Cushing’s disease can cause significant health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, blood clots in the legs and lungs, bone loss and fractures, a weakened immune system, and depression. Patients may have thin arms and legs, a round red full face, increased fat around the neck, easy bruising, striae (purple stretch marks) and weak muscles.
Isturisa is the first FDA-approved drug to directly address this cortisol overproduction by blocking the enzyme known as 11-beta-hydroxylase and preventing cortisol synthesis.
“This new therapy can help people with Cushing’s disease, a rare condition where excessive cortisol production puts them at risk for other medical issues,” said Mary Thanh Hai, acting director of the Office of Drug Evaluation II in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “By helping patients achieve normal cortisol levels, this medication is an important treatment option for adults with Cushing’s disease.”
Isturisa’s safety and effectiveness for treating Cushing’s disease among adults was evaluated in a study of 137 adult patients (about three-quarters women) with a mean age of 41 years. The majority of patients either had undergone pituitary surgery that did not cure Cushing’s disease or were not surgical candidates. In the 24-week, single-arm, open-label period, all patients received a starting dose of 2 milligrams of Isturisa twice a day that could be increased every two weeks up to 30 mg twice a day. At the end of this 24-week period, about half of patients had cortisol levels within normal limits. After this point, 71 patients who did not need further dose increases and tolerated the drug for the last 12 weeks entered an eight-week, double-blind, randomized withdrawal study where they either received Isturisa or a placebo. At the end of this withdrawal period, 86 percent of patients receiving Isturisa maintained cortisol levels within normal limits compared to 30 percent of patients taking the placebo.
The most common side effects reported in the clinical trial for Isturisa were adrenal insufficiency, headache, vomiting, nausea, fatigue and edema. Other potential side effects include low cortisol levels, QTc prolongation (a heart rhythm condition), and elevations in adrenal hormone precursors (inactive substance converted into a hormone) and androgens (hormone that regulates male characteristics).
Isturisa received Orphan Drug designation, which is a special status granted to a drug intended to treat a rare disease or condition.
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