Endothelin receptor antagonism: role in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension related to scleroderma

Peter Kabunga, Gerry Coghlan
Drugs 2008, 68 (12): 1635-45
Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a devastating disease, which is associated with a 1-year survival of about 50% without specific treatment. Pulmonary vascular remodelling, thrombosis and vasoconstriction are thought to be directly involved in increasing pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR), which, left untreated, ultimately leads to right ventricular failure and death. A total of 10-12% of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) develop PAH, which is a leading cause of mortality in these patients. Targeted treatment regimens involving oral therapies, in particular endothelin receptor antagonists (ERAs), such as bosentan, sitaxsentan (sitaxentan) and ambrisentan, are now being used and this approach has improved symptoms as well as survival. 1-Year survival has improved to about 80%, while 3-year survival in advanced SSc-PAH has improved from 44% to 65% since the introduction of ERAs. Subanalysis of BREATHE-1, a pilot study and the STRIDE-2X randomized controlled trials has reported improvements in time to clinical worsening, 6-minute walk distance (6mwd) and right heart haemodynamics in SSc-PAH patients given bosentan and sitaxsentan, respectively, compared with placebo. The ARIES studies have also demonstrated a delay in the time to clinical worsening and improvement in 6mwd in connective tissue associated-PAH patients given ambrisentan compared with placebo. Unfortunately, these drugs are expensive and also have the potential for adverse interactions with other PAH and supportive therapies. Mandatory monthly liver function tests are required for safe administration of bosentan, ambrisentan and sitaxsentan, while dose adjustment of warfarin and careful monitoring are required when sitaxsentan is initiated. Earlier diagnosis and treatment of PAH may further improve outcomes with current ERAs. WHO functional class (FC) has traditionally been used to determine which patients with PAH will start therapy. The EARLY study has reported significant reductions in PVR and time to clinical worsening in mildly symptomatic PAH patients treated with bosentan, and many PAH clinicians now believe WHO FC should be used as a monitoring tool once targeted therapies have been initiated and not as a tool for deciding when to start PAH specific therapies.Many pathways are thought to be involved in the pathophysiology of the PAH. There is growing evidence that combination therapies targeting different pathophysiological steps may be necessary to effectively treat SSc-PAH. The COMPASS-1 study has reported an acute haemodynamic benefit in PAH when a single-dose of sildenafil is used in combination with bosentan and COMPASS-2 will investigate whether this acute response translates into long-term benefit. Well designed morbidity and mortality trials in SSc-PAH should help increase our understanding and treatment of this orphan disease.

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