Paying it Forward
A kidney transplant patient shares how joining a clinical trial helped her family — and others.
Twenty-four years ago, Tamiko McClure should have been enjoying one of the happiest times in her life: She had just given birth to a healthy baby boy. But instead, she found herself often feeling sick and weak and went to the doctor looking for answers.
McClure was diagnosed with lupus. The disease eventually caused her kidneys to fail, and she was placed on the list for a kidney transplant. Though not a blood relative, McClure’s cousin’s wife was a match; McClure received a kidney transplant on June 12, 2007. “I consider that my second birthday,” McClure says.
Following the transplant, McClure, who works as a registration auditor at UC, began the anti-rejection drug carousel that often befalls transplant patients.
“Transplant patients have to take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of their life so that they don’t reject their transplanted organ,” says Rita Alloway, PharmD, a UC research professor who specializes in -immunosuppression pharmacotherapy. Alloway explains that the US government covers 80 percent of the the cost of immunosuppressive drugs for the first three years post-transplant, but after that, patients are responsible for their entire cost. The financial burden varies depending on a patient’s insurance coverage for prescription medications. Brand-name immunosuppressive drugs, often the first choice of clinicians and patients, can cost as much as of $10,000 to $20,000 per year for immunosuppressive drugs.
Meanwhile, generic drugs often cost a fraction of the price of brand-name options, and are hence more likely to be covered by insurance companies. But while the Food and Drug Administration requires that generic medications are tested for safety in healthy people, the drugs are not tested in post-transplant patients; this leads to concerns about their effectiveness among clinicians and patients alike. With support from the FDA, Alloway led a clinical trial in 2014 to test a generic anti-rejection drug in patients who had received liver and kidney transplants.
“I reached out to kidney and liver transplant recipients who were stable and met the criteria for the study, and willing to participate,” Alloway says.
One of the patients Alloway connected with was McClure, who immediately signed on, despite her reservations. “I was nervous at first, not knowing if the generic drug would be as effective,” says McClure. “But then I realized there could be a reward at the end of this, not just for me, but for other patients. Brand-name drugs are much more expensive than generics, and no one should have to choose between eating today or getting their medication.”
McClure has successfully used generic immunosuppressive medication since the study. Her son, who was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 14 and is also a transplant recipient, also takes a generic drug. McClure says she would definitely encourage other patients to get involved with clinical trials that have the potential to help them and others.
“I tell my kids, it’s not just about you; you also have to think about how what you’re doing might have a positive effect on the next person,” she says. “We as human beings have to try to figure out how we can help each other.”
Now We Join in Celebration
As we celebrate 50 years of providing excellence in transplantation, breakthrough treatments and compassionate coordination of care to the region, we invite you to join us in a 50-day countdown to the anniversary of the first surgery that launched Cincinnati’s most comprehensive transplant program.
For more information about UC Health transplant services, please visit uchealth.com/transplant.