AN INTERVIEW WITH TEJAS DESAI, MD,
SENIOR MEDICAL DIRECTOR
Tell us about your first experience with a kidney patient, personally or professionally, and what impressions it left on you as a fellow human being?
The experience that stands out most for me was during my training at NYU. That’s when I met a patient who was probably my grandmother’s age. Just like my grandmother, she suffered from kidney failure. Unlike my grandmother, however, she chose dialysis. On the one hand, I would go to work and see my patient and bear witness to the challenges she faced by having kidney failure and receiving dialysis. On the other hand, I would come home and see my grandmother and bear witness to the challenges she faced by having kidney failure and not receiving dialysis. Seeing and hearing how both were enduring kidney failure despite choosing different treatment paths made me realize that the only solution was to avoid kidney failure to begin with. That’s when I realized I wanted to be a nephrologist.
Can you tell our AAKP national and global audience about Vifor Pharma’s role in the kidney space and the company’s commitment to kidney patients and their families?
Vifor Pharma is a unique firm. We are laser-focused on the care of kidney patients. Our goal is to develop and bring to the kidney community innovative treatment options to the symptoms that patients with kidney disease experience.
As we know, Chronic Kidney Disease Associated Pruritis (CKD-aP) is itching that is directly related to kidney disease. It most commonly affects individuals on hemodialysis (approximately 30-70 percent). Historically, there has been no effective treatment for CKD-aP, until the recent launch by Vifor Pharma of an FDA-approved treatment. Can you share why Vifor Pharma focused its efforts on this unmet patient need and is delivering this first-in-class treatment?
Patients on hemodialysis suffer from a number of debilitating symptoms with persistent itching being a particularly burdensome and common one. We are honored to be part of the team bringing the first FDA-approved treatment that can bring relief to hemodialysis patients that suffer from CKD-associated moderate to severe pruritus!
What do you think are the barriers to the identification and treatment of CKD-aP? Do you feel patients, in consultation with the healthcare professionals they choose to care for them, should have access to and choice of what treatment is right for them, whether established or new innovation?
One of the biggest challenges in treating CKD-aP is realizing that you have CKD-aP. There isn’t a lab test, imaging study, or even physical sign that you suffer from CKD-aP. The absence of these three makes it harder for your dialysis nurse and physician to diagnose CKD-aP. Your dialysis team will need your help to make the diagnosis. We want patients to feel empowered and raise the presence of itch to their dialysis healthcare team. Helping your nurse or physician understand how you feel will help everyone make the diagnosis and open the door to discussing treatment options.
From your perspective, what do you feel is one of the biggest hurdles companies face once they launch a new FDA approved treatment? How do you envision this hurdle can be overcome? What role can kidney patient advocates have in helping companies overcome barriers to accessing treatments?
Educating patients, nurses, and physicians about the appropriate use of a new FDA-approved treatment is a big yet surmountable task. The best way to overcome a lack of education is to create various learning opportunities. A combination of online and in-person (live) teaching sessions gives everyone the best balance of opportunities to learn about newly approved treatments. Organizations like the AAKP are instrumental in educating the entire kidney community about new treatment options for debilitating conditions kidney patients face. AAKP has a decades-long, successful history of raising awareness in the patient community of new treatments – treatments that patients can learn through AAKP educational content and then discuss with their healthcare team.
As a leader in healthcare, you know well that it is not easy to develop a novel approach to treat or enhance care. What do you draw upon internally to keep your drive, optimism, and focus on patients going at full speed during the tough days?
From my perspective, it’s the two-decades old, juxtaposed image of my patient and grandmother that reminds me that we need a solution for the hardships that kidney patients endure.
Final question–AAKP patients think this last question can reveal a lot about a person. Who is one of your heroes, and why?
Just one. Mark Cuban. Simply put, he uses his success to help patients in the best way that he can. That’s the person I try to emulate as a Vifor Pharma Medical Director.
Do you have any final thoughts to share?
Keep up the impactful work. It makes a difference and really does move the needle forward in helping kidney patients thrive.
Tejas Desai, MD, is a Nephrologist in Charlotte, North Carolina. He began his career in academia as a training program co-director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program and then Nephrology Fellowship Director at East Carolina University – Brody School of Medicine. Following his career in academia, he joined the Department of Veterans Affairs and was privileged to serve our Veteran CKD and ESRD population. He joined Vifor Pharma as Senior Medical Director to continue contributing positively towards the health of kidney patients. You can find him on social media at @nephondemand.