Conference Coverage

Biologics gaining traction in children with moderate to severe psoriasis



SAN DIEGO – Systemic therapies are increasingly being used for children with moderate to severe psoriasis; methotrexate is still the mainstay of systemic treatment, but biologics appear to achieve superior results with fewer side effects, Amy S. Paller, MD, said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Etanercept was approved in 2016 for children ages 6 and up, and ustekinumab was approved for use in patients aged 12 years or older in October 2017. Ongoing trials are examining adalimumab, apremilast, ustekinumab, and ixekizumab for use in adolescents and younger children. Trials are also being planned for other therapies that inhibit the Th17/IL-23 pathway, said Dr. Paller, the Walter J. Hamlin Professor and chair of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

Dr. Paller, chair of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

Dr. Amy S. Paller

Dr. Paller co-authored a 2017 retrospective study by the Psoriasis Investigator Group (PsIG) of the Pediatric Dermatology Research Alliance and the European Working Group on Pediatric Psoriasis (EWGPP), which found methotrexate was used in 69% of 390 pediatric patients with moderate to severe psoriasis, and 48% reported at least one adverse event related to the drug, primarily gastrointestinal side effects. The study, which included 1990-2014 data from 20 centers in the U.S. and Europe, additionally indicated that daily use of folic acid was more effective than a weekly dose for protecting against the GI symptoms. ( JAMA Derm 2017;153: 1147-57 )

Further, the study found that biologic agents, primarily etanercept, were used by 27%, acitretin by nearly 15%, cyclosporine by about 8%, and fumaric acid esters by 5%. More than 1 medication was used by 19%, according to the study results.

Adverse events affected the ability to tolerate therapy, and methotrexate and biologic agents were taken for a mean duration that was 2-fold greater than the mean duration for cyclosporine or fumaric acid esters. “A prospective registry is needed to track the long-term risks of systemic agents for pediatric psoriasis,” the authors concluded.

Dr. Paller reported that, in her practice, "we're still primarily using methotrexate. It takes time to see an effect with methotrexate, and you have to let people know this up front.” She pointed to a 2015 single-site prospective study of 25 children that found just 40% achieved Psoriasis Area and Severity Index 50 at 12 weeks, with that number rising to 80% by 36 weeks. ( J Derm Treat 2015; 26: 406-12 )

Dr. Paller recommends baseline and annual TB testing, updated vaccinations and pregnancy counseling for all patients taking immunosuppressant therapies.

"I don't use a lot of retinoids for plaque psoriasis in kids," Dr. Paller said, "but for pustular psoriasis, I use (them) quite a bit. The beauty of retinoids is that they are not immunosuppressants, and you can start and stop them without loss of efficacy. There are many potential side effects, primarily skin and mucosal dryness."

Cyclosporine "has the greatest potential toxicity, which leaves it lower on the therapeutic ladder," Dr. Paller said. "But it has a pretty good safety record. The nice thing we can say is that (cyclosporine has) been around a long time. We have decades of experience in children, and we're using a low dose."


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