Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a rare neuromuscular disorder that causes progressive weakness and early death. Gene therapy is an area of new therapeutic development. This qualitative study explored factors influencing parents’ and adult patients’ preferences about gene therapy.
The authors report qualitative data from 17 parents of children with DMD and 6 adult patients. Participants responded to a hypothetical gene therapy vignette with features including non-curative stabilizing benefits to muscle, cardiac and pulmonary function; a treatment-related risk of death; and one-time dosing with time-limited benefit of 8-10 years. They used NVivo 11 to code responses and conduct thematic analyses.
All participants placed high value on benefits to skeletal muscle, cardiac, and pulmonary functioning, with the relative importance of cardiac and pulmonary function increasing with disease progression. More than half tolerated a hypothetical 1% risk of death when balanced against Duchenne progression and limited treatment options. Risk tolerance increased at later stages. Participants perceived a ‘right time’ to initiate gene therapy. Most preferred to wait until a highly-valued function was about to be lost.
Participants demonstrated a complex weighing of potential benefits against harms and the inevitable decline of untreated Duchenne. Disease progression increased risk tolerance as participants perceived fewer treatment options and placed greater value on maintaining remaining function. In the context of a one-time treatment like gene therapy, the finding that preferences about timing of initiation are influenced by disease state suggest the importance of assessing ‘lifetime’ preferences across the full spectrum of disease progression.