WASHINGTON – Celecoxib conferred a 53% decreased risk of overall mortality upon patients with rheumatoid arthritis when compared with naproxen – a surprise finding in a subanalysis of the newly released PRECISION study of anti-inflammatory drugs in arthritis.
But it’s tough to know what to make of the difference, according to the investigators at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology. Although statistically significant, the mortality finding was based on just 45 events: 30 among those taking naproxen and 15 among those taking celecoxib.
“While I would say we were surprised to see this, we really can’t say what it means – or if it means anything,” primary investigator Daniel Solomon, MD, said in an interview. “This is a finding we will continue to investigate and look at, but at this point it’s not enough to base any prescribing decisions on.”
PRECISION (Prospective Randomized Evaluation of Celecoxib Integrated Safety Versus Ibuprofen or Naproxen) enrolled more than 24,000 patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. They were randomized to celecoxib, naproxen, or ibuprofen for a mean of 20 months, with an additional mean follow-up of 34 months.
The primary outcome was the first occurrence of an adverse event from the Antiplatelet Trialists Collaboration criteria (APTC; death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal heart attack, or nonfatal stroke). Secondary outcomes included:
• Major cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular death, revascularization, and hospitalization for unstable angina or transient ischemic attack).
• Renal events (acute kidney injury, including hospitalization for renal failure).
• Gastrointestinal events (hemorrhage, perforation, gastroduodenal ulcer, anemia of gastrointestinal origin, and gastric outlet obstruction.
The main PRECISION findings were released Nov. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association and simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med. 2016 Nov 13. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1611593).
Overall, celecoxib was just as safe as were the other drugs on the APTC endpoint, which occurred in about 2% of each groups. The study found significantly decreased risks of both GI and renal events with celecoxib, compared with either naproxen or ibuprofen. Celecoxib and naproxen were equivalent with regard to GI and renal events.
The subanalysis, released at the ACR meeting, adds important disease-specific context to the overall PRECISION results.
“We wanted to really delve into the subtle differences in how these two patient groups responded to these medications,” said PRECISION coinvestigator Elaine Husni, MD, vice chair of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.
“We learned that each of these NSAIDs has a unique safety profile that can be different in different groups. And in general, celecoxib seems less risky than the others.”
The cohort subanalysis broke down these endpoints among 21,600 patients with osteoarthritis and 2,400 with rheumatoid arthritis.
Among patients with osteoarthritis, celecoxib was also associated with a 16% decreased risk of a major adverse cardiovascular event, compared with ibuprofen. GI events were also less likely in this group: Celecoxib was associated with a 32% decreased risk, compared with ibuprofen, and a 27% decreased risk, compared with naproxen.
Renal outcomes were almost identical in all of the medications in both groups, Dr. Husni said.
In addition to the adverse event outcomes, the subanalysis examined how well patients responded to their assigned NSAID. There were also some subtle differences seen here, Dr. Solomon and Dr. Husni said.
For patients with RA, ibuprofen was slightly, but significantly, more effective than either celecoxib or ibuprofen at controlling pain as measured by a visual analog pain scale. Patients with osteoarthritis responded equally well to all of the drugs.
RA patients also responded best to ibuprofen as measured by the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index (HAQ-DI). Again, patients with osteoarthritis responded equally well to all of the medications.
The overall findings, as well as the subanalysis, should be reassuring to both physicians and patients, said Dr. Solomon, chief of the section of clinical sciences in the divisions of rheumatology and pharmacoepidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.
“I can now stand in front of patients and say with confidence, ‘Each of these drugs is fairly safe, and together we can choose the one that will be best for you, based on your own individual history and your own individual risk factors.’ I feel good about that.”
Pfizer funded the trial. Dr. Husni has research grants from Genzyme/Sanofi on a knee osteoarthritis trial related to hyaluronic acid injections. Dr. Solomon has research grants from Pfizer on non-NSAID related topics. He also receives royalties from UpToDate on chapters related to NSAIDs and selective COX-2 inhibitors.
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