Conference Coverage

Round 1: Biologics, JAK inhibitors training up for atopic dermatitis ‘boxing match’



– Get ready for a “boxing match” over the next few years, as two treatment categories duke it out for their place in the therapeutic armamentarium for atopic dermatitis (AD), Thomas Bieber, MD, PhD, said in an oral presentation at the World Congress of Dermatology.

“In one corner of the ring you will have the biologics, and in the other corner of the ring, you will have the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors and some other small molecules,” said Dr. Bieber, medical director of dermatology and allergy, at University Hospital Bonn, Germany.

There will be no winner-take-all scenario, since AD is a heterogeneous disease for which a variety of treatments will be needed, Dr. Bieber noted. However, he said, there are clear differences in mode of action, safety, mode of application, price, and more that will be important as dermatologists weigh the choice of biologics versus JAK inhibitors for a specific patient.

“Currently, dupilumab is the only one that is on the market (in the European Union) and this molecule is really a revolution for us,” Dr. Bieber said at the meeting. “But we will see in the next years, many, many other molecules coming up.”

Beyond dupilumab (Dupixent), the interleukin-4 (IL-4) receptor alpha antagonist approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017, biologics under development include tralokinumab, lebrikizumab, and nemolizumab, among others. Development on the small molecule side includes agents such as ZPL-389, a histamine H4 receptor agonist, but is dominated by JAK inhibitors such as baricitinib(Olumiant), approved by the FDA in 2018 for rheumatoid arthritis; upadacitinib; and abrocitinib, according to Dr. Bieber.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each class of molecule, he said. For example, JAK inhibitors act very rapidly to control itch and improve exacerbations, while biologics are “much slower” and provide delayed control of inflammation, he said. In terms of safety, by contrast, biologics probably offer a “better” benefit-to-risk ratio, with no risk for drug-drug interactions and no monitoring needed, while JAK inhibitors appear to have a “narrow” therapeutic window, with a risk for drug-drug interactions and a need for some monitoring, he said.

JAK inhibitors come in a tablet formulation, which, from the patient perspective, may be more convenient and acceptable compared with repeated injections of biologics every 2 or 4 weeks, Dr. Bieber noted. Another point potentially in favor of JAK inhibitors is price: “I think the current situation tells us clearly that the biologics are the more expensive drugs, while the small molecules typically are much less expensive,” he said.

One theoretical advantage of biologics, he said, is the potential for disease modification, while the disease-modifying potential of JAK inhibitors is unclear, as of yet. “We have not had enough experience with all these molecules in order to understand how we can do that particular job, in terms of switching off the disease,” he said.

In terms of the need for patient stratification in the future, it’s a draw between biologics and JAK inhibitors, Dr. Bieber said. “You will not see any of these drugs doing 100 percent of the job in 100 percent of the patients, so to me, currently from my understanding of this disease, there is no one-size-fits-all molecule.”

Toward that end, machine learning and artificial intelligence may aid in evaluating large amounts of data to better understand AD phenotypes. “That’s really something that is a particular kind of challenge in the next years, in order to improve at-the-end drug development, and the management of our patients,” he concluded.

Dr. Bieber reported disclosures related to LEO Pharmaceuticals, Regeneron, and Sanofi.

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