It’s time to drive action on the silent struggle of people living with immuno-inflammatory diseases

“Immuno-inflammatory diseases rarely make headlines, but while they are not often life-threatening, they can be totally life-changing. The needs of people living with them are often unrecognized and their stories of daily struggles and compromise dismissed,” explains Ana Paula Carvalho, Regional President, International Developed Markets, Inflammation and Immunology, Pfizer.

Immuno-inflammatory diseases occur when there is dysfunction in the body’s normal protective inflammatory response, causing our immune system to turn against our organs, tissues or cells.1 Spanning a broad spectrum of chronic disorders, including atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, immuno-inflammatory diseases affect around 4% of the world’s population.1 And their burden is rising, with an estimated 3-9% increase in cases per year, globally.2

Immuno-inflammatory diseases affect around 4% of the world’s population. And their burden is rising, with an estimated 3-9% increase in cases per year, globally.

Many patients with immuno-inflammatory diseases undergo a constant fight to keep them under control. These debilitating conditions are often poorly understood, resulting in difficulty in securing a diagnosis and optimal treatment.3 Existing treatments, for some of these conditions, offer symptomatic relief but, to date, there are no cures.3 While treatment landscapes across these diseases vary, their relapsing-remitting nature often sees patients going through a ‘revolving-door’ of consultations and different treatments, with low rates of long-term complete remission.3 Patients can experience life-long compromise to their quality of life and psychological wellbeing.4 Some disorders, such as atopic dermatitis or alopecia areata (patchy hair loss), are frequently dismissed as being cosmetic, but their impact can feel catastrophic for sufferers; and, as with all immuno-inflammatory diseases, their psychological wellbeing, relationships and confidence to work and engage in social activities can all be drastically impacted.5,6 Some of these conditions can also adversely impact patients’ productivity, with those with active inflammatory bowel disease, for example, missing 12% of their work-time due to the condition.7

Some disorders, such as atopic dermatitis or alopecia areata (patchy hair loss), are frequently dismissed as being cosmetic, but their impact can feel catastrophic for sufferers.

The need to focus on the challenges of these underserved patients is long overdue. At Pfizer, we continue to be committed to research and development in immunology and inflammation, with one of the broadest pipelines in the industry, in the knowledge that extraordinary breakthroughs are now within reach. We’re working hard to develop treatments and tools to alleviate the distress and disruption of these diseases. To accelerate the translation of science into tangible solutions for patients, we recently acquired Arena Pharmaceuticals, a clinical stage company developing potential therapies for several immuno-inflammatory diseases.

“In our efforts to transform patients’ lives, it’s important to look beyond the pill, to find ways to understand, raise awareness of, and address the challenges they face. For example, Pfizer is exploring digital innovations, such as wearable solutions, to help scientists monitor symptoms so they can understand and demonstrate the impact of disease,” explains Carvalho.

To address the quality of these patients’ lives, it’s critical the entire healthcare community works collaboratively.

“To address the quality of these patients’ lives, it’s critical the entire healthcare community works collaboratively. No one organization or field can make substantial change alone, but by working together we can revolutionize the care patients receive. Initiatives that build consensus on best practice, with each of us playing our part to support its delivery, can lead to more holistic and standardized care and treatment pathways – steps that can significantly improve patient outcomes,” suggests Carvalho.

Stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare providers, should continue to work together to improve our understanding of each of these diseases and deliver effective new solutions. Scientific advances have led to the arrival of additional therapeutic options, but access remains limited and, for some of these conditions, older treatments continue to be the mainstay despite certain limitations.8 Helping policymakers and payers understand the huge toll of immuno-inflammatory diseases and the potential value of innovations in this field could encourage the creation of policies and decisions that pave the way for more of these innovations to be made available — enabling us to make progress on reducing access barriers and inequity, and crucially improving the quality of life of those who suffer from these diseases.

Helping policymakers and payers understand the huge toll of immuno-inflammatory diseases and the potential value of innovations in this field could encourage the creation of policies and decisions that pave the way for more of these innovations to be made available.

Collaboration among those with relevant expertise can be a catalyst to innovation, as we’ve demonstrated alongside our partners. Pfizer worked with Sidekick Health on a digital health solution, available in certain markets, to support patients in understanding their condition and the impact of lifestyle choices on their symptoms, helping them to make more informed choices.

There is greater power in the collective, and Pfizer is proud to be part of the Global Dermatology Coalition. This patient-led multi-stakeholder group has formed to advocate to the World Health Organization and other decision-makers globally, to elevate the healthcare prioritization of dermatological diseases. The group is focused on improving patient outcomes globally by raising awareness of the burdensome and multi-faceted impacts of dermatological conditions, including pain, disfigurement, disability and stigma, as well as comorbidities and psychological, social and financial burdens.

The potential to help people with immuno-inflammatory conditions thrive in remission and reclaim the things they love is plentiful if stakeholders, including industry, healthcare systems, policy and decision-makers, unite under a common goal.


[1] National Stem Cell Foundation. Autoimmune Disease. Available at: https://nationalstemcellfoundation.org/glossary/autoimmune-disease/. Accessed June 2022.

[2] The Guardian. Global spread of autoimmune disease blamed on western diet. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/jan/08/global-spread-of-autoimmune-disease-blamed-on-western-diet. Accessed June 2022.

[3] Cleveland Clinic. Autoimmune Diseases. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21624-autoimmune-diseases. Accessed June 2022.

[4] Corsetti MT, et al. Psychological distress and quality of life are improved in autoimmune patients through Tandem-Psychotherapy, combining individual hypnosis and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for trauma, followed by supportive-expressive group therapy. Clin Rheumatol. 2020; 39(4):1331-1339.

[5] Gochnauer H, et al. The Psychosocial Impact of Atopic Dermatitis. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;1027:57-69.

[6] Aldhouse NVJ, et al. “‘You lose your hair, what’s the big deal?’ I was so embarrassed, I was so self-conscious, I was so depressed:” a qualitative interview study to understand the psychosocial burden of alopecia areata. J Patient Rep Outcomes. 2020;4(1):76.

[7] European Federation of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations. World IBD Day 2020. Available at: https://www.efcca.org/en/projects/world-ibd-day-2020#costs. Accessed June 2022.

[8] Li P, et al. Drugs for Autoimmune Inflammatory Diseases: From Small Molecule Compounds to Anti-TNF Biologics. Front Pharmacol. 2017; 8: 460.



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