Those are key findings from what is believed to be the largest cohort study of its kind to estimate the 6-month rate of infections among children with psoriasis who started treatment with ustekinumab, etanercept, or methotrexate.
“Clinical trials have demonstrated high efficacy of new immunomodulatory agents in treating children with psoriasis,” lead author Maria C. Schneeweiss, MD, of the division of pharmacoepidemiology in the departments of medicine and dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues wrote in the article, which was published online in JAMA Dermatology. “However, the risk of infections in clinical practice has not been fully characterized by comparing these medications against each other in pairwise comparisons.”
Drawing from two large U.S. insurance claims databases, the researchers identified 2,338 patients aged 17 years and younger who were receiving treatment with a topical medication for psoriasis and started new treatment with ustekinumab, etanercept, or methotrexate. They stratified their analysis by the time before pediatric labeling (2009-2015) and after pediatric approval (2016-2021), and their follow-up of patients started 1 day after initiating treatment and ended at 6 months.
Of the 2,338 patients, 1,368 (58%) were girls. From 2009 through 2021, 379 patients began treatment with ustekinumab, 779 patients began treatment with etanercept, and 1,180 patients began treatment with methotrexate. The propensity score–adjusted incidence rate of serious infection was 18.4 per 1,000 person-years (3 events) for those who used ustekinumab, 25.6 per 1,000 person-years (9 events) for those who used etanercept, and 14.9 per 1,000 person-years (8 events) for those who used methotrexate. The adjusted rate of outpatient infections was 254.9 per 1,000 person-years (39 events) for those who used ustekinumab, 435.7 per 1,000 person-years (139 events) for those who used etanercept, and 433.6 per 1,000 person-years (209 events) for those who used methotrexate. Meanwhile, the adjusted rate ratio of outpatient infections was 0.58 for ustekinumab vs. etanercept, 0.66 for ustekinumab vs. methotrexate, and 0.95 for etanercept vs. methotrexate. The researchers found that ratios were similar during the off-label use era and after pediatric labeling.
Anna L. Grossberg, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Baltimore, who was asked to comment on the work, told this news organization that the data on outpatient infections in ustekinumab users “demonstrated that they may have a decreased risk of infection compared to pediatric psoriasis patients treated with methotrexate or the TNF-alpha inhibitor etanercept. This is previously unreported and reflects my personal experience with this medication in my own pediatric psoriasis patients.” She added the study’s overall findings lend further support to the safety of biologic medications and nonbiologic systemic immunomodulatory treatments for management of psoriasis. “This study will help guide pediatric dermatologists in counseling patients and their families about these risks [of infection], and in general providing reassurance that these risks appear to be quite low,” Dr. Grossberg said. “In particular, ustekinumab, a newer biologic medication that was recently FDA-approved for children 6 years and older for pediatric psoriasis, was not associated with higher infection rates than the other agents analyzed in this study, and in fact appears to carry a reduced risk compared to both etanercept and methotrexate.”
She noted certain limitations of the study, including its reliance on insurance claims data, “which can be limiting because information on possible confounding variables may not be known,” she said. “For example, the authors point out that environmental and behavioral risk factors for serious infection could not be evaluated or adjusted for, nor could the severity of the patients’ psoriasis. Additionally, this study only reported on outpatient infections that resulted in an antibiotic or other medications being prescribed and filled. It therefore may have missed children who presented with certain viral infections (examples could include the common cold and uncomplicated ear infections), which often will not require a prescription medication. Furthermore, it would fail to capture those who may have been seen for an infection but failed to fill the intended prescription.”
Dr. Schneeweiss reported receiving grants from AbbVie and UCB to Brigham and Women’s Hospital unrelated to the topic of this study and outside the submitted work. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Dr. Grossberg reported having no financial disclosures.