Cushing’s Disease—Monthly Injection Is Good Alternative to Surgery

Written by Kathleen Doheny with Maria Fleseriu, MD, FACE, and Vivien Herman-Bonert, MD

Cushing’s disease, an uncommon but hard to treat endocrine disorder, occurs when a tumor on the pituitary gland, called an adenoma—that is almost always benign—leads to an overproduction of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which is responsible for stimulating the release of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

Until now, surgery to remove the non-cancerous but problematic tumor has been the only effective treatment. Still, many patients will require medication to help control their serum cortisol levels, and others cannot have surgery or would prefer to avoid it.

Finally, a drug proves effective as added on or alternative to surgery in managing Cushing’s disease. Photo; 123rf

New Drug Offers Alternative to Surgery for Cushing’s Disease

Now, there is good news about long-term positive results achieved with pasireotide (Signifor)—the first medication to demonstrate effectiveness in both normalizing serum cortisol levels and either shrinking or slowing growth of tumors over the long term.1,2  These findings appear in the journal, Clinical Endocrinology, showing that patients followed for 36 months as part of an ongoing study had improved patient outcomes for Cushing’s disease.2

“What we knew before this extension study was—the drug will work in approximately half of the patients with mild Cushing’s disease,” says study author Maria Fleseriu, MD, FACE, director of the Northwest Pituitary Center and professor of neurological surgery and medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and clinical nutrition at the Oregon Health and Sciences University School of Medicine.

“Pasireotide also offers good clinical benefits,” says Dr. Fleseriu who is also the president of the Pituitary Society, “which includes improvements in blood pressure, other signs and symptoms of Cushing’s symptom], and quality of life.”2

What Symptoms Are Helped by Drug for Cushing’s Disease?  

Among the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s disease that are lessened with treatment are:3

  • Changes in physical appearance such as wide, purple stretch marks on the skin (eg, chest, armpits, abdomen, thighs)
  • Rapid and unexplained weight gain
  • A more full, rounder face
  • Protruding abdomen from fat deposits
  • Increased fat deposits around the neck area

The accumulation of adipose tissue raises the risk of heart disease, which adds to the urgency of effective treatment. In addition, many individuals who have Cushing’s disease also complain of quality of life issues such as fatigue, depression, mood and behavioral problems, as well as poor memory.2

As good as the results appear following the longer term use of pasireotide,2 Dr. Fleseriu admits that in any extension study in which patients are asked to continue on, there are some built-in limitations, which may influence the findings. For example, patients who agree to stay on do so because they are good responders, meaning they feel better, so they’re happy to stick with the study.

“Fortunately, for the patients who have responded to pasireotide initially, this is a drug that can be  continued as there are no new safety signals with longer use,” Dr. Fleseriu tells EndocrineWeb, “and when the response at the start is good, very few patients will lose control of their urinary free cortisol over time. That’s a frequent marker used to monitor patient’s status. For those patients with large tumors, almost half of them had a significant shrinkage, and all the others had a stable tumor size.”

What Are the Reasons to Consider Drug Treatment to Manage Cushing’s Symptoms

The extension study ”was important because we didn’t have any long-term data regarding patient response to this once-a-month treatment to manage Cushing’s disease,” she says.

While selective surgical removal of the tumor is the preferred treatment choice, the success rate in patients varies, and Cushing’s symptoms persist in up to 35% of patients after surgery. In addition, recurrent rates (ie, return of disease) range from 13% to 66% after individuals experience different durations remaining in remission.1

Therefore, the availability of an effective, long-lasting drug will change the course of therapy for many patients with Cushing’s disease going forward. Not only will pasireotide benefit patients who have persistent and recurrent disease after undergoing surgery, but also this medication will be beneficial for those who are not candidates for surgery or just wish to avoid having this procedure, he said.

Examining the Safety and Tolerability of Pasireotide  

This long-acting therapy, pasireotide, which is given by injection, was approved in the US after reviewing results of a 12-month Phase 3 trial.1  In the initial study, participants had a confirmed pituitary cause of the Cushing’s disease. After that, the researchers added the optional 12-month open-label, extension study, and now patients can continue on in a separate long-term safety study.

Those eligible for the 12-month extension had to have mean urinary free cortisol not exceeding the upper limit of normal (166.5 nanomoles per 24 hour) and/or be considered by the investigator to be getting substantial clinical benefit from treatment with long-action pasireotide, and to demonstrate tolerability of pasireotide during the core study.1

Of the 150 in the initial trial, 81 participants, or 54% of the patients, entered the extension study. Of those, 39 completed the next phase, and most also enrolled in another long-term safety study—these results not yet available).2

During the core study, 1 participants were randomly assigned to 10 or 30 mg of the drug every 28 days, with doses based on effectiveness and tolerability. When they entered the extension, patients were given the same dose they received at month.1,2

Study Outcomes Offer Advantages in Cushing’s Disease

Of those who received 36 months of treatment with pasireotide, nearly three in four (72.2%) had controlled levels of urinary free cortisol at this time point.2 Equally good news for this drug was that tumors either shrank or did not grow. Of those individuals who started the trial with a measurable tumor (adenoma) as well as those with an adenoma at the two year mark (35 people), 85.7% of them experienced a reduction of 20% or more or less than a 20% change in tumor volume. No  macroadenomas present at the start of the study showed a change of more than 20% at either month 24 or 36.2

Improvements in blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference continued throughout the extension study.1  Those factors influence CVD risk, the leading cause of death in those with Cushing’s.4

As for adverse events, most of the study participants, 91.4%, did report one or more complaint during the extension study—most commonly, it was high blood sugar, which was reported by nearly 40% of participants.2. This is not surprising when you consider that most (81.5%) of the individuals participating in the extension trial entered with a diagnosis of diabetes or use of antidiabetic medication, and even more of them (88.9%) had diabetes at the last evaluation.1  

This complication indicates the need for people with Cushing’s disease to check their blood glucose, as appropriate.

Do You Have Cushing’s Disese [sic]? Here’s What You Need to Know 

Women typically develop Cushing’s disease more often than men.

What else should you be aware of if you and your doctor decide this medication will help you? Monitoring is crucial, says Dr. Fleseriu, as you will need to have your cortisol levels checked, and you should be on alert for any diabetes signals, which will require close monitoring and regular follow-up for disease management.

Another understanding gained from the results of this drug study: “This medication works on the tumor level,” she says. “If the patient has a macroadenoma (large tumor), this would be the preferred treatment.” However, it should be used with caution in those with diabetes given the increased risk of experiencing high blood sugar.

The researchers conclude that “the long-term safety profile of pasireotide was very favorable and consistent with that reported during the first 12 months of treatment. These data support the use of long-acting pasireotide as an effective long-term treatment option for some patients with Cushing’s Disease.”1

Understanding Benefits of New Drug to Treat Cushing’s Diseease [sic]

Vivien S. Herman-Bonert, MD, an endocrinologist and clinical director of the Pituitary Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, agreed to discuss the study findings, after agreeing to review the research for EndocrineWeb.

As to who might benefit most from monthly pasireotide injections? Dr. Herman-Bonert says, “any patient with Cushing’s disease that requires long-term medical therapy, which includes patients with persistent or recurrent disease after surgery.” Certainly, anyone who has had poor response to any other medical therapies for Cushing’s disease either because they didn’t work well enough or because the side effects were too much, will likely benefit a well, she adds.

Among the pluses that came out of the study, she says, is that nearly half of the patients had controlled average urinary free cortisol levels after two full years, and 72% of the participants who continued on with the drug for 36 months were able to remain in good urinary cortisol control .1

As the authors stated, tumor shrinkage was another clear benefit of taking long-term pasireotide. That makes the drug a potentially good choice for those even with large tumors or with progressive tumor growth, she says. It’s always good for anyone with Cushing’s disease to have an alterative [sic] to surgery, or a back-up option when surgery isn’t quite enough, says Dr. Herman-Bonert.

The best news for patients is that quality of life scores improved,1 she adds.

Dr Herman-Bonert did add a note of caution: Although the treatment in this study is described as ”long-term, patients will need to be on this for far longer than 2 to 3 years,” she says. So, the data reported in this study may or may not persist, and we don’t yet know what the impact will be 10 or 25 years out.

Also, the issue of hyperglycemia-related adverse events raises a concern, given the vast majority (81%) of patients who have both Cushing’s disease and diabetes. Most of those taking this drug had a dual diagnosis—having diabetes, a history of diabetes, or taking antidiabetic medicine.

If you are under care for diabetes and you require treatment for Cushing’s disease, you must be ver mindful that taking pasireotide will likely lead to high blood sugar spikes, so you should plan to address this with your healthcare provider.

 

Dr. Fleseriu reports research support paid to Oregon Health & Science University from Novartis and other 0companies and consultancy fees from Novartis and Strongbridge Biopharma. Dr. Herman-Bonert has no relevant disclosures.

The study was underwritten by Novartis Pharma AG, the drug maker. 

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/news/pituitary-disorders/62449-cushings-disease-monthly-injection-good-alternative-surgery

Novel Therapy Eases Cushing’s Symptoms in Pivotal Trial

by Kristen Monaco, Staff Writer, MedPage Today

LOS ANGELES — An investigational therapy improved quality of life and reduced disease symptoms for patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome, according to new findings from the phase III SONICS study.

Patients taking oral levoketoconazole twice daily had significant reductions in mean scores for acne (-1.8), peripheral edema (-0.4), and hirsutism (-2.6), all secondary endpoints of the pivotal trial (P<0.03 for all), reported Maria Fleseriu, MD, of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

“We’re looking forward to see the results of further studies and to add this therapy to the landscape of Cushing’s,” Fleseriu said here during a presentation of the findings at AACE 2019, the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. “We have a newer medication and still we cannot make a dent in the outcomes of Cushing’s, especially for patient-reported outcomes.”

Free testosterone levels significantly decreased in women taking levoketoconazole (a ketoconazole stereoisomer and potent steroidogenesis inhibitor), from an average of 0.32 ng/dL down to 0.12 ng/dL (0.011 to 0.004 nmol/L, P<0.0001). Men had a non-significant increase: 5.1 ng/dL up to 5.8 ng/dL (0.177 to 0.202 nmol/L).

There were no significant changes from baseline to the end of maintenance for other secondary endpoints in the analysis: moon facies, facial plethora, striae, bruising, supraclavicular fat, irregular menstruation, and dysmenorrhea. However, significant improvements after 6 months of therapy were seen in patient-reported quality of life compared with baseline (mean 10.6 change on the Cushing QOL questionnaire) as well as a significant reduction in depressive symptoms (mean -4.3 change on the Beck Depression Inventory II).

The open-label, multicenter SONICS (Study of Levoketoconazole in Cushing’s Syndrome) trial included 94 adult men and women with a confirmed diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome and elevated 24-hour mean urinary free cortisol (mUFC) levels at least 1.5 times the upper limit of normal.

In the dose-titration phase of the study (weeks 2 to 21), patients were titrated up to a max dose of 600 mg levoketoconazole twice daily until mUFC normalization. A 6-month maintenance phase followed with no dose increases, but decreases were allowed if adverse events emerged. An additional 6-month extended evaluation phase followed thereafter.

The study met it’s previously reported primary endpoint, with 30% of patients achieving normalized mUFC levels after 6 months of maintenance therapy without a dose increase (95% CI 21%-40%, P=0.0154).

Levoketoconazole was well tolerated, with only 12.8% of patients discontinuing treatment due to adverse events. The most commonly reported adverse events were nausea (31.9%), headache (27.7%), peripheral edema (19.1%), hypertension (17%), and fatigue (16%), some of which were expected due to steroid withdrawal, Fleseriu said.

Serious adverse events were reported in 14 patients, including prolonged QTc interval in two patients, elevated liver function in one patient, and adrenal insufficiency in another, events similar to those seen with ketoconazole (Nizoral) therapy.

Fleseriu explained that drug-drug interaction is a problem in Cushing’s, as all of the available medications prolong QT interval.

She noted that in SONICS, QT prolongation with levoketoconazole was observed in few patients. It’s still a “concern,” said Fleseriu, especially for patients on other drugs that prolong QT.

Although not yet approved, levoketoconazole has received orphan drug designation from the FDA and the European Medicines Agency for endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. The tentative brand name is Recorlev.

The study was supported by Strongbridge Biopharma.

Fleseriu reported relationships with Strongbridge, Millendo Therapeutics, and Novartis. Co-authors also disclosed relevant relationships with industry.

From https://www.medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/aace/79465

Cushing’s Syndrome Epidemiology

By Yolanda Smith, BPharm

Cushing’s syndrome is considered to be a rare disorder that results from prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids. However, there are few epidemiological studies to provide adequate data to describe the incidence and prevalence of the condition accurately. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although any individual may be affected at any age.

The presentation of the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome can vary greatly. In addition, many of the symptoms overlap with those caused by other health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome. This can make the diagnosis of the condition difficult. It is also difficult to establish epidemiological trends in Cushing’s syndrome, because not all cases of the disease are diagnosed. However, it is important that diagnosis is made as soon as possible, because early diagnosis and treatment of the condition are associated with improved morbidity and mortality rates.

Population-based Studies

There are several population-based studies that have reported the incidence and mortality rates of Cushing’s syndrome in certain populations over a discrete period of time.

A study in Denmark followed 166 patients with Cushing’s syndrome for 11 years, finding an incidence of 2 cases per million population per year. Of the 166 patients, 139 had benign disease. There was a mortality rate of 16.5% in the follow-up period of 8 years, with most deaths occurring in the year after the initial diagnosis, often before the initiation of treatment. The causes of death of patients with Cushing’s syndrome in the study included severe infections, cardiac rupture, stroke and suicide.

A study in Spain found 49 cases of Cushing’s syndrome over a period of 18 years, with an incidence of 2.4 cases per million inhabitants per year and a prevalence of 39.1 cases per million. The standard mortality ratio in this study was 3.8, in addition to an increase in morbidity rates.

Incidence

A low incidence of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome was established by the population-based studies outlined above, corresponding to approximately 2 cases per million. Some studies have an estimated incidence as low as 0.7 people per million.

However, the incidence of subclinical Cushing’s syndrome may be underestimated in certain population groups, such as those with osteoporosis, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus or hypertension. For example, of 90 obese patients with uncontrolled diabetes mellitus in one study, three had Cushing’s syndrome. This yielded a prevalence of 3.3%, which is considerably higher than the incidence reported in the population-based studies. However, these findings should be supported by larger studies.

Females are more likely to be affected by Cushing’s syndrome than males, with a risk ratio of approximately 3:1. There does not appear to be a genetic link that involves an ethnic susceptibility to the condition.

Treatment Outcomes

Surgery is the first-line treatment option for most cases of overt disease and remission is achieved in the majority of patients, approximately 65-85%. However, for up to 1 in 5 patients the condition recurs, and the risk does not appear to level off, even after 20 years of follow-up.

The risk of mortality for individuals with Cushing’s syndrome is estimated to be 2-3 times higher than that of the general population, based on epidemiological studies.

Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD.

From http://www.news-medical.net/health/Cushings-Syndrome-Epidemiology.aspx

Day 29, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

People sometimes ask me how I found out I had Cushing’s Disease.  Theoretically, it was easy.  In practice, it was very difficult.

Ladies Home Journal, 1983In 1983 I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal which said “If you have these symptoms…”

I found the row with my symptoms and the answer read “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.

After that article, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s, I bought books that mentioned Cushing’s. I asked and asked my doctors for many years and all of them said that I couldn’t have it.  It was too rare.  I was rejected each time.

Due to all my reading at the library, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. My doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

In med school, student doctors are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras“.

According to Wikipedia: “Zebra is a medical slang term for a surprising diagnosis. Although rare diseases are, in general, surprising when they are encountered, other diseases can be surprising in a particular person and time, and so “zebra” is the broader concept.

The term derives from the aphorism “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”, which was coined in a slightly modified form in the late 1940s by Dr. Theodore Woodward, a former professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Since horses are the most commonly encountered hoofed animal and zebras are very rare, logically you could confidently guess that the animal making the hoofbeats is probably a horse. By 1960, the aphorism was widely known in medical circles.”

So, doctors typically go for the easily diagnosed, common diseases.  Just because something is rare doesn’t mean that no one gets it.  We shouldn’t be dismissed because we’re too hard to diagnose.

When I was finally diagnosed in 1987, 4 years later, it was only because I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker so my leg looked like a cut log with rings.

When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size of the rings. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.

Fortunately, that new doctor ran a twenty-four hour urine test and really looked at me and listened to me.  Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s but, of course, couldn’t do anything further with me.  They packed me off to an endo where the process started again.

My final diagnosis was in October, 1987.  Quite a long time to simply  “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.

Looking back, I can see Cushing’s symptoms much earlier than 1983.  But, that ‘s for a different post.

 

Straight Talk Cushing’s

awareness

 

On April 8th, people from around the world unite in support of Cushing’s Disease Awareness Day.

In this animated video, learn more about Cushing’s disease, including the mechanism of disease, clinical manifestations, symptoms and diagnosis challenges.

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