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Leading in healthcare innovation: FASTRAX is on a mission to transform the rheumatic disease journey

Posted by
Evgueni Ivanov, Digital Care Transformation Immunology

People living with chronic diseases need holistic, sustainable solutions that go beyond treatment. They need care that seamlessly integrates into their lives and empowers them to live the lives they choose.

At UCB, we’re committed to elevate the standard of care by going beyond the science. Harnessing cutting-edge technology, novel approaches, and close stakeholder collaboration allows us to address specific unmet needs, personalize treatment opportunities, and better support patients where they need it most.  

Our FASTRAX program is an example of this commitment, where we have leveraged our expertise in rheumatology to solve an urgent unmet need. Launched in 2021, FASTRAX addresses the critical issue of delayed diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis in the lower back. axSpA is often mistaken as generic back pain, which causes patients to remain undiagnosed and untreated for several years.

Why is a timely diagnosis of axSpA so critical? 

Lower back pain (LBP) is incredibly common, affecting over 80% of individuals at some point in their lives. For most, the root cause is mechanical, with many cases resolving within a few months. However, approximately 19% of the general population will endure persistent discomfort lasting beyond three months. Among this group, approximately 5% will be diagnosed with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA). Patients may start experiencing generic back pain in their mid-20s but could take on average 9 years to get their diagnosis. 

The path to an axSpA diagnosis is often long. Symptoms are frequently missed or misinterpreted, and patients are passed between healthcare providers without answers or specialised treatment. As time passes, their symptoms become more severe, potentially leading to irreversible damage to their spine and joints. But the impact of axSpA goes beyond physical pain; the burden of living with chronic inflammatory arthritis for years can also take a toll on mental and emotional well-being, affecting every aspect of the lives of those waiting for a diagnosis.  

Without distinct features, biomarkers or diagnostic criteria, solving the delay in axSpA diagnosis is complex, with no silver-bullet solution. We believe we are uniquely positioned to address this by bringing together our in-house expertise and connecting different healthcare system stakeholders, including partnering with rheumatology experts, patient organizations and technology providers. 

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Transforming the axSpA patient journey 

With FASTRAX, our ambition is to create a seamless patient and healthcare professional experience, from the first signs of symptoms to appropriate referral and timely diagnosis. As the patient journey is unique to each country, we have set up several initiatives to target specific opportunities and tailored our approach to individual healthcare systems:  

  • In France and the US, we are developing tools to automatically identify patients with potential inflammatory back pain in primary care and to accelerate their assessment and referral to rheumatologists.
  • In Canada, we are piloting an interdisciplinary model of care to streamline the referral pathways. The aim is to accelerate the assessment of newly referred patients with back pain for inflammatory conditions.
  • In the UK, we’re supporting National Health Service (NHS) hospitals with the latest technology platforms to streamline the management of existing patient cohorts and implement Patient-Initiated Follow-Up (PIFU) mandates. This initiative aims to reduce waiting times and increase capacity in rheumatology clinics.

Professor Raj Sengupta, Consultant Rheumatologist, The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Bath: “Through FASTRAX, we will launch a platform providing patients with self-management tools and streamlining communication through PIFU. This innovative approach optimizes clinic resources and prioritizes urgent cases, ultimately improving the care we provide to our patients by giving us access to all relevant data in one place.”

Some of our innovation efforts have already received public recognition. Our Canadian initiative was featured in the “Health Care Reimagined: The future of health in Canada” report. As remarked by Lionel Houle, Head of Immunology Canada at UCB, “This program marks a strategic commitment by UCB to revolutionize patient care and support rheumatologists.”

With the upcoming launch of these initiatives in clinical practice, FASTRAX is poised to make a significant impact on the lives of those living with axSpA. But our ambitions extend far beyond this initial success. We are committed to expanding the reach of these solutions nationally and internationally, building on our expertise in axSpA to address unmet needs across immunology and neurology. Stay tuned for new developments in the coming months as we aim to continue to transform the standard of care in chronic diseases. 

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