From the Journals

Case series suggests biologics, JAK inhibitors safe during pandemic



Use of biologics and Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors was not associated with worse outcomes in 86 people with inflammatory diseases who contracted COVID-19, according to a case series from New York University Langone Health.

Dr. Jose Scher of New York University

Dr. Jose Scher

“We are not seeing worse outcomes with overall use of either. It’s reassuring” that the data support continued use during the pandemic, said rheumatologist and senior investigator Jose Scher, MD, an associate professor at New York University.

There have been concerns among rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, and dermatologists that underlying inflammatory diseases and the agents used to treat them would impact outcomes in COVID-19.

Dr. Scher and colleagues, including lead author and rheumatologist Rebecca Haberman, MD, wanted to address the issue, so they reviewed the experience in their own health system of patients with inflammatory diseases – most commonly psoriatic arthritis, RA, and Crohn’s disease – who were assessed for COVID-19 from March 3 to April 3.

Fever, cough, and shortness of breath were the most common symptoms. The infection was confirmed by polymerase chain reaction in 59 (69%) and highly suspected in 27.

A total of 62 patients (72%) were on JAK inhibitors or biologics at baseline, including 38 (44%) on tumor necrosis factor inhibitors.

Overall, 14 patients (16%) were hospitalized with COVID-19, which is consistent the 26% hospitalization rate among the general population in New York City.

Baseline biologic and JAK inhibitor use was actually lower among hospitalized patients than among those who weren’t hospitalized (50% vs. 76%), and the hospitalization rate was only 11% among 62 subjects who had been on the agents long term, more than a year among most.

Hospitalized patients tended to be slightly older (mean, 50 vs. 46 years) with a higher prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They also had a higher prevalence of RA (43% vs. 19%), methotrexate use (43% vs. 15%), and use of hydroxychloroquine (21% vs. 7%) and oral glucocorticoids (29% vs. 6%).

It’s unknown what to make of those findings for now, Dr. Scher said. The study didn’t address differences in the severity of the underlying inflammatory illness, but a new and significantly larger case series is in the works that will analyze that and other potential confounders.

Dr. Scher noted that he’s particularly interested in drilling down further on the higher prevalence of RA and methotrexate in hospitalized patients. “We want to understand those signals better. All of this needs further validation,” he said.

Of the 14 hospitalized patients, 11 (79%) were discharged after a mean of 5.6 days. One died in the ED, and two remained hospitalized as of April 3, including one in the ICU.

The investigators are contributing to COVID-19 registries for inflammatory disease patients. The registries are tending to report higher hospitalization rates, but Dr. Scher noted they might be biased towards more severe cases, among other issues.

As for the current situation in New York City, he said that the “last week in March and first 3 in April were indescribable in terms of admissions, intubations, and deaths. Over the last week or so, it has calmed down significantly.”

There was no external funding. Dr. Haberman reported ties to Janssen, and Dr. Scher reported ties to Janssen, Novartis, Pfizer, and other companies.

SOURCE: Haberman R et al. N Engl J Med. 2020 Apr 29. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2009567.

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