New Drug Brings Hope To Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The simple act of breathing is something many of us take for granted. But for the 30,000 people dealing with cystic fibrosis (CF) in the U.S., taking a breath can be a task in itself.

The University of Minnesota, considered a leader in cystic fibrosis research, has played a big role in the clinical trials of a new drug that’s helping CF patients breathe easier.

Any runner will tell you that a long jog can leave you winded. But for Chelsea Votel, breathing and exercise have never been so easy.

Her daily jogs are no longer slowed by her CF, a genetic disorder where the body produces thicker mucus, often making it hard to breath.

“It’s very different than what it used to be. It was a challenge before,” Votel said.

A recent checkup at the University of Minnesota Medical Center shows her lungs are now at near-normal capacity. For the last year, Chelsea has been taking a new drug to treat cystic fibrosis called Kalydeco.

“I think my quality of life has just improved overall,” she said.

According to her physician, Dr. Jordan Dunitz, Kalydeco is the first drug to treat the actual disorder, targeting the gene deficiency rather than treating the symptoms. Dunitz has been part of the clinical trials at the U since the beginning.

“It’s amazing,” Dunitz said. “There are very few breakthroughs that have this kind of impact on any disease that we see.”

Chelsea isn’t the only one who’s showing promising results. Dunitz has seen the quality of life of other patients improve with the drug.

While cystic fibrosis could at times be a fatal condition, Dunitz believes that could soon change.

“From everything we’ve seen, it’s going to make it a very different disease,” he said.

For Chelsea, the pill has given her more than the ability to breathe easily. It’s given her the chance to plan for her future.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know if I would have a full, healthy life,” Votel said. “Now I can set goals that are 30 years down the line and not just 5-years out.”

Kalydeco only helps 5 percent of patients living with cystic fibrosis. A new drug is in clinical trials that could help 50-90 percent of CF sufferers.

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