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By Paul Phelps, MD, FACS

A new drug could restore independence for people with a rare vision condition. For physicians like me, that’s exciting news.

More Immediate Relief

In years past, patients with a condition called thyroid eye disease had to wait and suffer before they could get relief. It’s not advisable to start treatment until a patient’s eyes stop changing. So, they would typically endure a multi-year wait for the disease to worsen, then plateau, before they could start a series of corrective surgeries.

And the wait was difficult. Thyroid eye disease causes double vision and pain, along with bulging, redness and swelling of the eyes. These symptoms force many people to quit working and stop driving, basically surrendering their independence.

Others choose to stay home, safe from strangers’ whispers and judgement. Patients have shared with me that they’ve been accused of drug use and likened to cartoon characters, experiences they would rather avoid.

But now, instead of hiding out for years, patients have a treatment option available immediately after diagnosis. Infusions of a breakthrough drug called teprotumumab can begin reducing painful and disfiguring symptoms right away. And, after concluding the six-month course of treatment, patients can confidently resume their lives.

In addition, they don’t have to risk blindness or any other side effects associated with multiple eye surgeries.

Improving Patients’ Lives and Physicians’ Confidence

My enthusiasm for the new treatment option is somewhat ironic. I’m an oculofacial plastic surgeon. As a physician in training, I never imagined that one day I’d be thankful for not using the surgical skills I worked so hard to hone. But after seeing the benefits of teprotumumab in treating thyroid eye disease, I’m thankful my patients have a safer, less invasive solution.

Knowing I have a faster-acting, effective treatment also gives me more confidence as a provider. Before infused medication was an option, I often faced difficult conversations with patients, who needed ongoing moral and emotional support as they waited years for surgery.

Inspiring Innovation

Beyond directly helping thyroid eye disease patients, the new medication offers a glimpse of what innovation can do for people living with a rare disease. Individual patients with lesser-known conditions and providers who treat them are unified in collective hope that researchers will one day discover a treatment for them.

After seeing the effect of a breakthrough treatment for my thyroid eye disease patients, I have renewed confidence that others’ hope is justified. 

Paul Phelps, MD, FACS, is an oculofacial plastic surgeon in Chicago, Illinois.

Breakthrough, an IfPA blog series, offers health care providers a voice in the ever-growing conversation about innovation and value.

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