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By Tarek Rabah

A staggering 15 percent of American adults live with chronic kidney disease (CKD) — almost as many people as the entire population of California. Historically, CKD has not been one of the most publicized diseases. Nonetheless, it takes an enormous emotional toll on the lives of patients and their loved ones, and the economic burden on our healthcare system is substantial — amounting to more than $84 billion in Medicare expenditures annually.

Driven by innovative new treatment options and a renewed focus on policies governing access to critical care, we’ve now reached a pivotal point in the U.S. I have the privilege of working for AstraZeneca, an organization that has a deep commitment to transforming treatment for patients with CKD and being a part of this paradigm shift.

The race is on to improve quality of life for the estimated 37 million Americans affected by CKD, with the goal of changing the course of kidney care in the years to come. Here’s how we — and others in the industry — can work together to do it:

1. Understanding CKD’s comorbidities

Even today, many people with cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases have yet to receive a diagnosis — despite these diseases being among the leading causes of death in the U.S. Importantly, they are often interconnected: nearly half of individuals with CKD also have diabetes and self-reported cardiovascular disease.

It is critical that we continue investing in research that can uncover disease comorbidities with the goal of advancing treatment options that address shared risk factors between these distinct but interrelated disease areas.

2. Increasing awareness of CKD and its complications

CKD is often referred to as a “silent disease” because patients frequently do not experience symptoms in its early stages. Unfortunately, as kidney function declines, the risk of complications increases. According to research, patients with CKD often experience multiple complications such as hyperkalemia and anemia. If not taken seriously, these complications can become life-threatening and require hospitalization.

Earlier detection can help slow the progression of CKD and potentially provide patients with more options to help restore their quality of life.

3. Driving innovation in a space that’s been stagnant for decades

It is vital that investments in research continue to support people along the spectrum of CKD. At AstraZeneca, we’re investing in research that can intervene earlier and potentially slow progression of the disease for which there are no current treatments.

Ultimately, our ambition is to transform care for patients with CKD by focusing on continued innovation, addressing residual risks and preventing organ damage while targeting specific patient populations.   

4. Continuing to improve access to critical treatment

2019 saw significant bipartisan progress on policy discussions, the pinnacle being Advancing American Kidney Health — the Administration’s initiative to further progress how kidney disease is prevented, diagnosed and treated. Additionally, there is increased collaboration between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is helping to reshape how we approach the funding, regulatory and reimbursement landscape.

Industry leaders must seriously consider how — and if — our current medical infrastructure can support new innovations in the pipeline and work together to find solutions that could inhibit life-saving care from reaching patients.

5. Advancing patient-centric care

In a system that has historically favored research and practice around individual diseases rather than patients, we are at a critical point in how we care for patients with chronic conditions such as CKD.

Throughout the journey from diagnosis to treatment, to management of complications to potentially facing dialysis or transplant, we know that the road these patients face is long and often lonely. By providing a renewed focus on the provider-patient partnerships and the way their treatment journey is managed, we have the opportunity to better understand patients’ needs and improve their outcomes.

This National Kidney Month, I’m inspired by the work being done by my AstraZeneca colleagues and across the industry. I look forward to continuing to elevate awareness of CKD and to provide not only treatment, but hope, to millions of patients.


Tarek Rabah is Vice President, Renal, US at AstraZeneca.