MADRID – of the long-term extension phase of the pivotal RELIEF trial, Alfred Mahr, MD, PhD, reported at the annual congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.
“We now have strong evidence that apremilast is an effective and safe therapy to treat oral ulcers in patients with Behçet’s syndrome. I think this is a major advance in the field,” declared, a rheumatologist at St. Gallen (Switzerland) Cantonal Hospital.
Based largely upon the results of the 12-week, double-blind portion of the phase 3trial, the Food and Drug Administration approved apremilast ( ) for the treatment of oral ulcers in patients with Behçet’s disease in the summer of 2019.
The safety profile of the oral phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor was as seen in other studies, including in patients with psoriatic arthritis, an FDA-approved indication for the drug since 2014. The main side effects in the long-term extension of RELIEF were diarrhea and nausea, typically mild or moderate in nature and roughly twice as frequent as in placebo-treated controls in the double-blind study phase.
“At the end of the day, at week 64, only 12% of patients treated with apremilast during the entire 64 weeks discontinued the drug due to a treatment-emergent adverse event, which I believe is a good indicator of the safety of this medication,” the rheumatologist said. “The overall feeling is that the benefit-to-risk ratio is very good and it’s a safe drug to prescribe.”
At the close of the initial 12-week, double-blind phase of RELIEF, 178 of the original 207 participants elected to enter the long-term extension, either staying on apremilast at 30 mg twice a day for an additional 52 weeks or switching to that regimen from placebo.
The focus of the long-term extension was on disease activity and quality of life outcomes. The results in patients who had switched from placebo to apremilast after 12 weeks proved to be reassuringly similar to outcomes in patients on the drug for the full duration. For example, the mean improvement on the patient-reported Behçet’s Syndrome Activity Scale was 18.6 points after 12 weeks of double-blind apremilast, 16.9 points after 64 weeks of continuous apremilast, and 16.8 points with 12 weeks of placebo followed by 52 weeks of active therapy.
After 12 weeks of double-blind apremilast, patients averaged a 3.4-point improvement on the Behçet’s Disease Quality of Life measure. After 64 weeks on the drug, the improvement over baseline was 3.6 points, while in the switch group it was 3.4 points. Similarly, on all three components of the SF-36 quality of life metric, the continuous apremilast group showed maintenance of effect from week 12 to week 64, while the placebo-to-apremilast group caught up. The same was true with regards to the Behçet’s Disease Current Activity Index, which encompasses measures of both the patient’s and clinician’s perception of disease activity.
At the outset of the RELIEF trial, participants averaged four oral ulcers. At week 64, the continuous apremilast group averaged 1.4 and the switch group 0.8, a nonsignificant difference.
Asked if apremilast had a favorable impact upon other manifestations of Behçet’s disease besides the oral ulcers, Dr. Mahr replied, “This is a very good question. People often wonder about it. We do, too. But this trial was not designed to capture less common manifestations of Behçet’s syndrome, such as genital ulcers. There have been some analyses done, but the number of patients who had genital ulcers at 12 weeks were very few. The same was true for eye manifestations. There was sort of a signal that it works, but we can’t prove it in a placebo-controlled trial.”
Dr. Mahr reported receiving research funding from and serving as a consultant to Celgene, the study sponsor.