Conference Coverage

Physicians question the future of TNF inhibitors for psoriasis, PsA



Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors have long been the go-to treatment of choice for patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PsA). They’ve served patients well since etanercept was first approved for PsA in 2002, but today, with the availability of more attractive interleukin-17 and IL-23 inhibitors, dermatologists and rheumatologists are asking whether it’s time to reconsider the use of TNF inhibitors as first-line therapy in psoriasis and PsA.

Dr. April Armstrong, MD, MPH Professor of dermatology; director, psoriasis program, department of dermatology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Dr. April Armstrong

“TNF inhibitors have served psoriasis patients well for many years. The question is, ‘Is it time to move on from them as first-line agents for psoriasis?’ ” said April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, a dermatologist and associate dean for clinical research at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Dr. Armstrong participated in a point/counterpoint debate about the merits of IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors over TNF inhibitors at the annual meeting of the Group for Research and Assessment of Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis. “For the majority of our patients, IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors are probably rationally better than TNF inhibitors as first-line agents for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis,” she said.

In this debate, dermatologists and rheumatologists cited studies showing the safety and efficacy of IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors over TNF inhibitors. TNF inhibitors include etanercept (Enbrel and biosimilars), infliximab (Remicade and biosimilars), adalimumab (Humira and biosimilars), certolizumab pegol (Cimzia), and golimumab (Simponi). IL-12/23 inhibitors are limited to ustekinumab (Stelara). IL-17 inhibitors include secukinumab (Cosentyx), ixekizumab (Taltz), and brodalumab (Siliq). IL-23 inhibitors include guselkumab (Tremfya), tildrakizumab (Ilumya), and risankizumab (Skyrizi).

TNF inhibitors are recommended by the American College of Rheumatology as first-line therapy for treatment-naive patients with active PsA, and they, along with IL-12/23, IL-17, and IL-23 inhibitors are all recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology as monotherapy treatment options in adult patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. However, some studies have shown that non–TNF-inhibitor biologics have a higher efficacy than TNF inhibitors in some cases for some patients, such as those with moderate to severe psoriasis alone or for musculoskeletal efficacy in patients with PsA who have peripheral arthritis, enthesitis, dactylitis, or axial manifestations.

Favorable characteristics of non–TNF-inhibitor biologics

Dr. Armstrong cited a number of head-to-head trials to support her view that IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors are better than TNF inhibitors as first-line agents for patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. In the first head-to-head study of its kind in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis, ustekinumab proved superior to etanercept. Guselkumab was shown to be superior to adalimumab for patients with moderate to severe psoriasis. Tildrakizumab also proved superior to etanercept for patients with psoriasis. Risankizumab bested adalimumab in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis. Ixekizumab proved superior to etanercept in two pivotal studies of patients with widespread moderate-to-severe psoriasis.

IL-23 and IL-17 inhibitors tend to have less frequent maintenance dosing, with IL-17 inhibitors being once every 2 or 4 weeks and IL-23 inhibitors once every 8 or 12 weeks, compared with frequencies ranging from every week to every 8 weeks with TNF inhibitors, Dr. Armstrong said.

IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors also appear to have fewer safety concerns than TNF inhibitors, although there is less long-term data for them overall and there are some notable exceptions in certain patient populations. TNF inhibitors should be avoided in patients with a history of demyelinating disease or hepatitis B virus infection, and they are not preferred in patients who have a history of latent tuberculosis or advanced heart failure. IL-17 inhibitors should not be used in patients with a history of inflammatory bowel disease, and their use is associated with a higher rate of oral candidiasis. IL-23 inhibitors have a good safety profile overall, she said.

“The IL-17/23 axis is very important to psoriatic arthritis and should be the focus of our treatments” for PsA, said Deepak Jadon, MBBCh, MRCP, PhD, a rheumatologist and director of the rheumatology research unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge (England) University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. In his presentation, he proposed that IL-17 inhibitors and IL-23 inhibitors be used as first-line therapies in PsA ahead of TNF inhibitors.

One reason to go with IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors may be to ”get it right immunologically the first time,” Dr. Jadon said. He cited evidence showing substantially better response to guselkumab when given to biologic-naive patients with PsA versus those who had a inadequate response to TNF inhibitors, as well as data indicating better response with secukinumab regardless of previous TNF inhibitor use.

IL-17 inhibitors target more domains of psoriatic disease than do TNF inhibitors, he said, noting that “they have excellent musculoskeletal efficacy in patients with moderate skin psoriasis, not just those with severe psoriasis.” Ixekizumab proved superior to adalimumab in biologic-naive patients with PsA. The results of this study also indicated that IL-17 inhibitors should not be reserved only for patients with severe psoriasis since a higher percentage of patients with moderate psoriasis who were taking ixekizumab achieved very low PsA activity. Secukinumab also beat adalimumab in a head-to-head comparison and showed a greater impact on some measures of health-related quality of life.

IL-17 inhibitors also do not require concomitant methotrexate, he said, “which is a major bonus for our patients. All of my patients wish to stop methotrexate even if tolerated. Not having to cope with prescribed methotrexate improves risk of adverse events and frequency of blood test monitoring.”

IL-17 and IL-23 inhibitors appear to have good efficacy against axial disease in patients with PsA. Randomized trial results for secukinumab versus placebo show high percentages of patients improving either 20% or 40% in Assessment in Spondyloarthritis International Society response criteria and reduced inflammatory MRI lesions in the spine and sacroiliac joints. Analyses of trial results in guselkumab-treated patients with axial manifestations of PsA have shown the IL-23 inhibitor’s efficacy versus placebo across different measures of disease activity.

Dr. Jadon also cited real-world data showing that patients stay longer on IL-17 and IL-12/23 inhibitors versus TNF inhibitors. A 2016 study of patients with psoriasis in the PSOLAR registry showed that patients persisted on treatment longer with ustekinumab than with adalimumab, etanercept, or infliximab. Similarly, a 2020 study of patients with psoriasis from the British Association of Dermatologists Biologics and Immunomodulators Register found that both ustekinumab and secukinumab had better sustained drug survival than did adalimumab.


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