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Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a chronic cholestatic liver disease. The management landscape was transformed 20 years ago with the advent of Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA). Up to 40% of patients do not, however, respond adequately to UDCA and therefore still remain at risk of disease progression to cirrhosis. The introduction of Obeticholic acid (OCA) as second-line therapy for patients failing UDCA has improved outcomes for PBC patients. There remains, however, a need for better treatments for higher risk patients. The greatest threat facing our efforts to improve treatment in PBC is, paradoxically, the regulatory approval model providing conditional marketing authorisation for new drugs based on biochemical markers on the condition that long-term, randomized placebo-controlled outcomes trials are performed to confirm efficacy. As demonstrated by the COBALT confirmatory study with OCA, it is difficult to retain patients in the required follow-on confirmatory placebo-controlled PBC outcomes trials when a licensed drug is commercially available. New PBC therapies in development such as the PPAR agonists, face even greater challenges in demonstrating outcomes benefit through randomized placebo-controlled studies once following conditional marketing authorisation, as there will be even more treatment options available. A recently published EMA Reflection Paper provides some guidance on the regulatory pathway to full approval but fails to recognise the importance of Real-World Data in providing evidence of outcomes benefit in rare diseases. Here we explore the impact of the EMA reflection paper on PBC therapy and offer pragmatic solutions for generating evidence of long-term outcomes through Real World data collection.

Original publication




Journal article


Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)

Publication Date



Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, UK.