CHICAGO – while remaining in at least low disease activity in a multicenter, randomized trial with 259 patients.
The results also showed that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients randomized to maintain prednisone treatment at 5 mg/day along with tocilizumab fared even better. After 24 weeks of the glucocorticoid-tapering regimen, by which time patients in the tapered arm had their prednisone dosage down to 0 mg, the average change from baseline in their disease activity score 28 with erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR) was an increase of 0.538, compared with an average drop of 0.075 among untapered patients, a statistically significant difference for the study’s primary endpoint,, said at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.
But while the results definitively showed that RA patients treated with the anti-interleukin 6 agent tocilizumab (Actemra) as their primary drug benefited from continued, additional treatment with low-dose prednisone, the results also showed that many patients could come off prednisone without immediate downside. Among the 131 randomized to a forced taper and eventual prednisone discontinuation, 85 (65%) went through this process without flaring and maintained at least low disease activity and sometimes remission, said Dr. Burmester, a professor and director of rheumatology and clinical immunology at Charité Hospital in Berlin. In contrast, 99 of 128 patients (77%) maintained on tocilizumab plus 5 mg/day of prednisone were free from any flares and had at least low disease activity after 24 weeks, a statistically significant between-group difference.
These findings “have potential to inform clinical practice and aid in conversations with patients. RA patients who achieve at least low disease activity while receiving tocilizumab and long-term glucocorticoid treatment at 5 mg/day should be considered for tapering of their glucocorticoid dosage, ideally targeting discontinuation,” Dr. Burmester said.
Addressing a comment from the audience that it’s common knowledge that patients who are well controlled on a potent immunomodulating drug like tocilizumab can often successfully wean off a glucocorticoid, Dr. Burmester insisted that it was important to show this in a randomized, blinded trial.
“When they discontinue [a glucocorticoid] patients can develop myalgias or other symptoms and we haven’t known whether that was real or psychological. In this study patients did not know whether they were being discontinued, so the psychological element was gone,” he said. The new findings confirm in a rigorous way that “we could discontinue a substantial number of patients who probably no longer need a glucocorticoid. It’s an important discussion” for clinicians to have with patients.
The SEMIRA (Steroid Elimination in RA) trial enrolled 68 patients who had already begun tocilizumab treatment and 191 patients new to the drug who had a 24-week run-in on tocilizumab, all of whom also received 5 mg prednisone daily. The trial included 46 sites in five European countries plus Russia and Tunisia. During the main 24-week phase of the study, 128 patients remained on their entry regimen of tocilizumab and prednisone, with 112 completers; 131 others went through a forced taper that culminated in no prednisone administered during the final 8 weeks, with 114 completers. Patients averaged about 54 years old, and just over three-quarters were women. Almost two-thirds of patients also received a nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug.
A time-trend analysis of changes in DAS28-ERS showed that, while the difference in change from baseline in disease activity between the two treatment arms separated early in the taper process, the biggest uptick in DAS28-ESR in the patients coming off prednisone occurred once the final 1 mg/day dose was stopped.
The results also showed that tapering led to a statistically significant rise in the clinical disease activity index for RA, compared with that seen with not tapering, and tapering also was linked significantly with an increase in serum markers of bone turnover. The safety analysis showed no striking between-group differences in adverse events and in serious adverse events, and no patients developed confirmed adrenal insufficiency that required replacement therapy.
SOURCE: Burmester G et al. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2018;70(suppl 10):