Conference Coverage

Anti-TNF agents preferred for severe psoriasis in pregnancy



Psoriasis generally improves in most patients during pregnancy, but a subset of severe cases still occur that only systemic treatment can address, according to Kenneth B. Gordon, MD, professor and chair of dermatology at Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

“We always had this concept that psoriasis gets better during pregnancy, that you might have 20% or 30% of patients who might have a little bit of a flare or maintain, but most keep on getting better,” Dr. Gordon told attendees at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting.

But the majority doesn’t mean everyone. He shared the case of one pregnant woman who came to him with severe psoriasis, covering the whole of her inner thigh, to underscore that severe cases do happen in pregnancy.

“These are real situations, and when you talk about maternal health, this woman is uncomfortable, she can’t sleep, and she’s having huge stressors that are not only going to impact her and her pregnancy but also that impact her child,” Dr. Gordon said.

Dr. Gordon clarified that he is not referring to patients with limited psoriasis or those who respond to topicals or phototherapy. But because methotrexate or acitretin are “hands-off during pregnancy,” he said, the only systemic therapy available for serious cases besides biologics is cyclosporine, which has its own risks. “We know that [cyclosporine] is associated with preterm labor and preterm birth and significant low birth weight, so even in the best scenario, when we have someone with persistent severe psoriasis in pregnancy, our best agent has a lot of downsides.”

Too few data exist on anti–interleukin (IL)-17 or anti-IL-23 therapies to draw conclusions about their use, he said, and but gastroenterology and rheumatology have a fair amount of evidence on anti–tumor necrosis factor (TNF) therapies during pregnancy because it’s usually too risky to stop treating conditions such as Crohn’s with these drugs. Still, Dr. Gordon cautioned, much of the data on biologics in pregnancy are conflicting.

The question of what medications to use, and in whom, centers on balancing risks to the fetus from the medication versus risks from the condition.

“There are impacts on the fetus of having severe psoriasis, and it varies with severity of disease,” Dr. Gordon said. For example, data suggest an increased likelihood of low birth weight in children born to mothers with severe psoriasis, and that risk may extend to preterm birth as well, although “we don’t know exactly the magnitude of that effect.”

Meanwhile, the consensus from the literature throughout dermatology, rheumatology, and gastroenterology is that anti-TNF agents do not cause birth defects or affect risk of preterm birth or low birth weight.

“The bigger question is what’s the impact on the immune system of the child,” Dr. Gordon said. Data from a small Scandinavian study suggested no increased risk of allergies, infections, or similar immunologic outcomes, but evidence remains limited.

Research has shown that infants’ exposure to anti-TNF medications persists for 3-6 months after delivery, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends delaying immunization in children exposed to anti-TNF agents in pregnancy. But actual evidence on immunization outcomes shows no reduced immunogenicity in such children.

“Clearly there is persistence of drug in the child, but in fact you have normal responses to immunization,” Dr. Gordon said. “The pediatricians’ argument is not based on data of what actually happens in immunization; it’s based on the fact that the drug is there.”

So what’s the bottom line?

The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends moisturizers and topical corticosteroids as first-line therapy in pregnant women with psoriasis, followed by phototherapy for second-line treatment.

But some patients will need systemic therapy during pregnancy, although it’s “best not to introduce more medications than needed in pregnancy,” Dr. Gordon said. For women with a significant flare-up or very persistent volatile disease, NPF first recommends cyclosporine, but Dr. Gordon disagrees and would go with anti-TNF agents before cyclosporine.

Data show that certolizumab is not actively transported across the placenta therefore reducing fetal exposure, so Dr. Gordon would specifically use certolizumab first, all other things being equal.

“But if the patient has been on another anti-TNF that’s been working, I don’t really have an issue with staying with it,” he added.

Existing evidence so far shows no impact in terms of genetic abnormalities, birth weight, premature birth, or even infant immunizations from anti-TNF agents. But beyond those, “there is simply not enough information on pregnancy with other forms of biologic therapy to draw conclusions.” Dr. Gordon said.

Dr. Gordon disclosed that he has received grant support and/or honoraria from Abbvie, Amgen, Almirall, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

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