U.S. vs. French guidelines for osteoporosis treatment


The American College of Physicians has just updated its guidelines for osteoporosis treatment. Bernard Cortet, MD, PhD, chairperson of the Osteoporosis Research and Information Group and head of the rheumatology department at Lille (France) University Hospital, has agreed to compare the new U.S. guidelines to the 2018 French recommendations written under the aegis of the French Society for Rheumatology and GRIO. Dr. Cortet participated in drafting the French recommendations.

Question: The ACP “strongly” recommends initial pharmacologic treatment with bisphosphonate antiresorptive drugs (alendronate, ibandronate, risedronate, zoledronate) in postmenopausal females diagnosed with primary osteoporosis. Isn’t this what the SFR–GRIO have been recommending for many years?

Answer: The ACP reinforces its stance by arguing that in postmenopausal females with primary osteoporosis, bisphosphonates have the most favorable balance between benefits, harms, patient values and preferences, and cost among the drug classes that were evaluated. In addition to net clinical benefits, bisphosphonates are much cheaper than other pharmacologic treatments and are available in generic oral and injectable formulations.

Our French recommendations specify the choice of drug based on the type of fracture in women and on their bone mineral density (BMD). However, bisphosphonates are definitely given pride of place. When treatment for osteoporosis needs to be started, most of the time, a bisphosphonate is the treatment of choice.

Nevertheless, as also highlighted by the ACP, a more “aggressive” approach must be considered for more severe cases.

In the case of a severe fracture, the French recommendations indicate that all treatments can be prescribed. However, zoledronic acid should be favored as first-line treatment for a hip fracture. In other cases – with or without a nonsevere fracture – the therapeutic indication depends on the BMD values, and in difficult cases, on tools such as FRAX [the Fracture Risk Assessment Tool].

Our guidance strongly recommends opting for an injection in other contexts, such as significant decrease in bone density, presence of comorbidities, poor treatment compliance, brain function disorders, and polymedication.

Q. But it’s not really as simple as prescribing a bisphosphonate, is it?

A. You’re right, many people find the idea of taking bisphosphonates worrying because of associated jaw problems – osteonecrosis of the jaw – or atypical femoral fractures, based on what they’ve read on the Internet, where these serious adverse events are on display front and center with no mention of how often they actually happen and, often, failing to mention how effective bisphosphonates truly are.

These complications are real, but fortunately rare, especially during the first 5 years of treatment. To put this into context, for bisphosphonates, there’s one case of osteonecrosis of the jaw for every 10,000. And for denosumab, there are five cases for every 10,000. For atypical fractures, there’s one case for every 30,000 to 50,000.

Q. The U.S. guidelines also recommend that clinicians use a RANK ligand inhibitor – denosumab, also an antiresorptive drug – as second-line medical treatment. This is to reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women diagnosed with primary osteoporosis and presenting with contraindications or side effects of bisphosphonates. Do you support the use of denosumab as second-line treatment?

A. French legislation classifies it as a second-line treatment, after bisphosphonates. However, there are arguments in favor of prescribing it as first-line treatment in some contexts. If denosumab is to be prescribed – via a twice-yearly subcutaneous injection – full compliance must be observed. If a patient is to stop taking denosumab, an opinion from a medical professional is required before treatment can be discontinued, and then treatment with bisphosphonates must be prescribed.

Q. The ACP recommends that clinicians use either a sclerostin inhibitor – romosozumab – or recombinant human parathyroid hormone – teriparatide – two anabolic agents, followed by a bisphosphonate, with the aim of reducing the risk of fractures. This is only used in women with primary osteoporosis who are at a very high risk of fracture. As romosozumab is not available in France, it’s not really worth discussing its use. Does this strategy seem advisable to you, though?

A. The main issue is what is understood by “women at a very high risk of fracture.” There’s no consensus on the definition of what constitutes a woman at a very high risk of fracture, but we can assume that it involves the combination of low BMD and at least one severe fracture.

The role of anabolic bone treatment, as [the ACP] has defined it, seems logical to me, because in cases of severe osteoporosis with fracture, the risk of recurrence is very high in the next 2-3 years. In a study comparing risedronate and teriparatide in cases of severe osteoporosis, teriparatide was more effective in reducing the recurrence of vertebral fractures.

The favorable opinion of the French National Authority for Health in relation to medical coverage for romosozumab in the treatment of severe postmenopausal osteoporosis in women under the age of 75 years with a history of severe fractures, a T-score less than –2.5, and no previous history of coronary artery disease dates to 2021. This is because medical coverage for this specific group was not listed in the marketing authorization (MA) description for this drug.

But the review by the Economic Committee for Health Products failed to reach a consensus regarding the price. Today, in theory, romosozumab can be dispensed in France by hospital pharmacies, because it is approved for use in public hospitals. Romosozumab is a very interesting drug for relatively young women, especially those with multiple vertebral fractures. This injectable treatment is more effective than teriparatide in increasing BMD values and more effective than alendronate in preventing the recurrence of fractures.

Regarding medical coverage, as it stands, in cases where patients have a T-score less than or equal to –3, the 2018 SFR–GRIO recommends starting treatment even if the patient has no fractures. In cases with severe fractures combined with very low BMD (T-score ≤ –3), injectable treatments may be used to reach a bone density target (T-score > –2.5 to –2 for the hip) at the end of the treatment plan. [These treatments include] zoledronic acid, denosumab (in case of bisphosphonate failure or intolerance), or a treatment plan with teriparatide (covered by medical insurance if the patient has at least two vertebral fractures) followed by an antiresorptive drug (bisphosphonate or denosumab).

Romosozumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody (IgG2) that binds to sclerostin and acts as an inhibitor. This increases bone formation because of the activation of [bone lining cells], the production of bone matrix by osteoblasts, and the recruitment of osteochondroprogenitor cells. Moreover, romosozumab causes changes in the expression of osteoclast mediators, which decreases bone resorption. Together, these two effects that increase bone formation and decrease bone resorption lead to the rapid increase of trabecular and cortical bone mass, as well as improvements in bone structure and strength.

Women treated with a bone anabolic agent must take an antiresorptive agent at the end of their treatment so that the benefits from the treatment remain in the long term. The French and U.S. guidelines line up on this point.

In patients with two prevalent vertebral fractures, the U.S. guidelines state that teriparatide can be prescribed as first-line treatment at diagnosis in the absence of any contraindications. We agree on this point as well.

Moreover, in women under the age of 70 years with osteoporosis requiring treatment, French experts recommend prescribing raloxifene, a selective estrogen-receptor modulator. This is if the risk of nonvertebral fracture is low, as defined by the absence of the following criteria: low hip T-score, risk of falling, and history of nonvertebral fracture. Opportunities for its use are limited, and it doesn’t even figure among the U.S. recommendations.

Q. The ACP recommends that clinicians adopt an individualized approach regarding whether to start medical treatment with a bisphosphonate in women over age 65 years with low bone mass (osteopenia) to reduce the risk of fractures. If treatment is started, they›re of the opinion that a bisphosphonate must be used. What are the recommendations in France?

A. It should be noted that this recommendation by the ACP is conditional because of the low-certainty evidence.

Here’s a brief reminder of important things to note: a T-score between –2.5 and –1 indicates osteopenia; a T-score less than or equal to –2.5 indicates osteoporosis; a T-score less than or equal to –2.5 with one or several fractures indicates severe osteoporosis. The French recommendations state that treatment is not justified if a patient’s T-score is higher than –2 and there’s no presence of fractures, even with risk factors (and/or multiple falls). For T-scores less than or equal to –2 and higher than –3, the decision to prescribe depends on the specialist.

Q. The ACP recommends that clinicians use bisphosphonates for the initial medical treatment to reduce the risk of fractures in men diagnosed with primary osteoporosis.

A. The ACP recommends that clinicians use a RANK ligand inhibitor – denosumab – as second-line medical treatment to reduce the risk of fractures in men diagnosed with primary osteoporosis who present with contraindications or who are experiencing side effects of bisphosphonates. This treatment is not covered by health insurance for men in France.

Between 20% and 25% of clinical osteoporotic fractures occur in men. After age 50 years, men are roughly 20% more likely to experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. The French recommendations regarding the management and treatment of osteoporosis in men were published in 2021.

In the case of severe fractures (vertebrae, pelvis, upper end of the femur, distal femur, proximal humerus) attributable to bone fragility, osteoporosis treatment is recommended if one of the T-scores is less than or equal to –1.

In the case of nonsevere fractures (particularly wrist and ankle) attributable to bone fragility, osteoporosis treatment is recommended if one of the T-scores is less than or equal to –2. If there are no fractures, osteoporosis treatment is recommended in men at risk of bone fragility or of falling and if one of the T-scores is less than or equal to –3. In patients who had a fracture of the upper end of the femur attributable to bone fragility, zoledronic acid is recommended as first-line treatment.

For men with a severe nonvertebral fracture, single vertebral fracture, or nonsevere fracture, two treatments are indicated and covered by health insurance in France: zoledronic acid and risedronate. In men with at least two vertebral fractures, the following treatments are indicated and covered by health insurance in France: teriparatide and risedronate. In this case, teriparatide is prescribed for a period of 18 months. It must be followed by a prescription of oral or intravenous bisphosphonates.

Q. What is your take on the HAS update to the proper use of osteoporosis medication that’s just been published?

A. Like in the 2018 SFR–GRIO guidelines, no update has been made to the section on postmenopausal osteoporosis, except for the HAS introduction to the proper use of romosozumab, even though it’s not covered by health insurance in France.

In accordance with the MA, it doesn’t make sense to include this drug on the list of treatment options available for women with and without fractures, as it’s not included in the HAS-selected list of drugs covered by health insurance in France.

But I’m glad that the HAS has adopted the GRIO and SFR recommendations regarding corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis. Preventive treatment for corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis must be considered as soon as the daily dose of corticosteroids reaches or exceeds the equivalent of 7.5 mg of prednisone and when the estimated duration of corticosteroid therapy exceeds 3 months.

In summary, in women and men over the age of 50 years, the intake of the equivalent of 7.5 mg/day or more of prednisone or a history of a low-trauma fracture or being age 70 years or older, even with a T-score less than or equal to –2.5 for one of the two sites, indicates prescribing a bisphosphonate. Teriparatide is indicated if the patient has two vertebral fractures.

This article was translated from Medscape’s French edition.

A version of this article first appeared on

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