Conference Coverage

Ustekinumab quells aortic inflammation in patients with severe psoriasis



– A 12-week course of ustekinumab significantly reduced inflammation in the aorta – an effect on par with the benefit of statins – in patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.

Whether or not the reduction in aortic inflammation will translate into a reduction in cardiovascular risk remains to be determined, but investigators are very encouraged by the results of the Vascular Inflammation in Psoriasis-Ustekinumab (VIP-U) study, Joel M. Gelfand, MD, said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Joel M. Gelfand, professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Dr. Joel M. Gelfand

“We know that psoriasis patients with a body surface area of more than 10% have an 80% increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, independent of any other risk factors,” said Dr. Gelfand, director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “It confers a risk of major adverse cardiac event that is similar to that conferred by diabetes, and 30 times greater than their risk of melanoma. The clinical links are clear when you look at the mortality curves. But the question is, how do we get from the psoriasis phenotype to the cardiovascular disease phenotype? And would treating psoriasis lower the risk of these future morbidities and help people live longer, healthier lives?”

For the past decade, researchers have worked on the assumption that the chronic systemic inflammation of severe psoriasis overlaps with similar inflammatory pathways that drive atherosclerosis, plaques that rupture, and cardiovascular events.

Recently, they have employed fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) to confirm some of this. Studies in 2011, 2015, and 2017 confirm that patients with severe plaque psoriasis can develop diffuse vascular inflammation with increased noncalcified coronary artery plaques. These more fragile plaques are the type that are prone to rupture and cause cardiovascular events, Dr. Gelfand said.

“In these studies, the more imaging signal we saw in the aorta, the higher the risk of a future cardiovascular event. In fact, we determined that patients with severe psoriasis can have increased aortic inflammation equivalent to a decade of aging. As your PASI [Psoriasis Area and Severity Index] score goes up, so does the amount of aortic inflammation. The anatomic consequence is that people develop a high risk of atherosclerotic plaques, and a higher rate of noncalcified coronary plaques that are more likely to lead to these events.”

The VIP-U study was conceived to examine whether calming psoriatic inflammation with ustekinumab (Stelara), an anti interleukin-12 and -23 antibody, could also improve vascular inflammation as measured by FDG-PET. The small study comprised 43 patients, half of whom received placebo and half of whom received two injections of ustekinumab: 45 or 90 mg depending on weight, at baseline and at week 4. There was an imaging assessment at week 12, after which the placebo patients crossed over to open-label ustekinumab every 2 weeks. Everyone was followed out to 64 weeks.

Dr. Gelfand reported the 12-week data; the 64-week data will be forthcoming later this year, he said.

The patients were typical for such a study, with a mean age of about 43 and a mean disease duration of 18 years. The mean body surface area was about 25%, and the mean PASI was 20. Most had been on prior therapy, including phototherapy, oral agents, and biologics.

Unsurprisingly, ustekinumab was significantly more effective than placebo in treating the psoriasis. At week 12, 10% of the placebo patients had achieved a PASI 75, compared with 77% of the ustekinumab patients. A Physicians Global Assessment (PGA) score of clear or almost clear occurred in 10% of those taking placebo and 64% of those taking the biologic.

However, the drug was also highly effective in reducing total aortic inflammation, Dr. Gelfand said. “In just 12 weeks, we saw a 6.6% reduction in total aortic inflammation among those taking ustekinumab, but a 12.1% increase in inflammation among those taking placebo. When you compare the delta, you see a highly statistically significant improvement in aortic inflammation in ustekinumab-treated patients, with the effect size similar to statin therapy.”

The benefit may be a class-associated one. Two recent similar studies of adalimumab, a tumor necrosis factor–alpha inhibitor, failed to find any improvement in vascular inflammation, compared with placebo.

“We need more information about the longer-term effects of ustekinumab treatment, as well as cardiometabolic biomarkers, and these are currently underway,” Dr. Gelfand said. “We also need additional trials to determine if this effect is due to the inhibition of IL-12, IL-23, or a combination. Cardiovascular studies will be necessary to fully determine the clinical implications of our findings.”

To refer a patient into the VIP studies, call 215-662-SKIN or email

The National Institutes of Health and University of Pennsylvania sponsored the study. Dr. Gelfand reported no financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Gelfand J et al. AAD 2018 Abstract 6645

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