Delgado, now a 39-year-old director of creative operations living in New Jersey in the US, is one of 850 million people worldwide with kidney disease.2 Most people with kidney diseases – particularly inflammatory diseases – have few treatment options. To survive, those with advanced diseases have two options: dialysis to mechanically filter the blood, or kidney transplantation.
“Many of these are particularly aggressive diseases,” says Nicholas Webb, a Senior Clinical Development Medical Director in Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism (CRM) at Novartis. “We are keen to find a solution.”
A battery is losing power
The kidneys are the body’s blood filtration system. They help get rid of waste and toxic substances, which they discard through urine. In patients with inflammatory kidney diseases, the kidneys become inflamed and scarred, and continuously lose function.
“I like to compare my kidneys with a battery. They are going to die, but there is still some juice,” Delgado says.
There are no approved targeted treatments that can prevent the disease from progressing to kidney failure. Physicians often prescribe steroids, which calm down the overall immune system to reduce inflammation. With this approach, however, patients become more susceptible to infections. Steroids may also cause serious side effects, such as thinning of the skin, water retention, bone loss and depression.
Inflammatory kidney diseases often affect young people in the prime of life. A large number of these patients progress to kidney failure within only 10 years of being diagnosed.
Many of these patients must undergo dialysis several times a week. When the kidneys can’t do their job, a machine filters and purifies the blood. This technique requires significant time and effort, and is exhausting. Some patients have to give up their education, job or hobbies.
I like to compare my kidneys with a battery. They are going to die, but there is still some juice.
Gisela Delgado, kidney patient
When Delgado reached her late 30s, her kidneys worsened to the point where she could no longer go to work. She was constantly tired and could not eat or sleep. That changed in February 2019, when she received a kidney transplant. “It felt like having been super thirsty and then someone gives you an ice-cold sports drink,” she says. “You wouldn’t realize how much the kidneys impact your energy levels.”
In around 13% of transplant patients, however, IgAN returns after five years. 5% of patients lose their new kidney as a result of disease relapse.3
“The crucial question is, ’How can we gain time for these patients and delay, or ideally prevent, the need for dialysis or transplant?’” says Thomas Holbro, who serves as a Global Program Head in CRM at Novartis, and is leading the development of a potential treatment for a number of inflammatory kidney diseases.