Conference Coverage

Tofacitinib postmarketing trial data shed light on JAK inhibitor risks



Additional analyses of a postmarketing trial that was required after the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib (Xeljanz, Xeljanz XR) has identified characteristics of older patients with rheumatoid arthritis with at least one cardiovascular risk factor who may be at higher risk for major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) when taking the drug.

Dr. Christina Charles-Schoeman, chief of rheumatology at the University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Christina Charles-Schoeman

Results from the phase 3b/4 ORAL Surveillance trial presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology show that people taking tofacitinib for RA with at least one cardiovascular (CV) risk factor had a nonsignificant higher risk for MACE than did people taking tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi), with the risk from tofacitinib more pronounced in current smokers, aspirin users, people older than 65 years, and men, compared with women.

“It is the first large, randomized safety study of active RA patients with increased CV risk comparing tofacitinib to TNF inhibition,” study author Christina Charles-Schoeman, MD, said in an interview. “These data emphasize the importance of assessing baseline CV risk when treating patients with RA.” Dr. Charles-Schoeman is chief of rheumatology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The results shed further light on the trial’s findings, which the FDA used in September 2021 to mandate boxed warnings about the risk of MI or stroke, cancer, venous thromboembolism, and death, as well as updated indications, for tofacitinib and other JAK inhibitors baricitinib (Olumiant) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq). The FDA limited all approved uses of these three medications to patients who have not responded well to TNFi to ensure their benefits outweigh their risks.

Tofacitinib is indicated for RA, psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and polyarticular course juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Baricitinib and upadacitinib are approved only for RA.

Dr. Katherine Liao, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston

Dr. Katherine Liao

While the overall results of the trial results show nonsignificant increased incidence rates for MACE in tofacitinib users versus TNFI users, Katherine Liao, MD, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, noted that more information is needed to determine who is at greatest risk. “Another thing to keep in mind is, while there was evidence of an elevated relative risk for MACE, compared to TNFi, the absolute risk, based on the numbers what we know so far, is small,” she said.

The trial compared two different doses of tofacitinib – 5 mg (1,455 patients) and 10 mg (n = 1,456) twice daily – and TNFi (n = 1,451) in people with moderate to severe RA over age 50. Patient characteristics were similar across all three treatment arms, Dr. Charles-Schoeman said. All patients had inadequate response to methotrexate, and about 57% in all three treatment groups were taking corticosteroids. The 10-mg tofacitinib patients switched to the 5-mg dose in February 2019 but represent the 10-mg group in the study analysis.

ORAL Surveillance demonstrated a 24% greater risk of MACE in the 5-mg tofacitinib patients and a 43% heightened risk the 10-mg group, compared with patients who received a TNFi.

The differentiating factor for MACE incidence was MI. The higher- and lower-dose tofacitinib groups had 69% and 80% greater risk for MI. While the risk for fatal MI were similar across all three treatment groups, the risk for nonfatal MI were more than doubled in the respective tofacitinib groups: hazard ratios of 2.32 and 2.08. The incidence of stroke was similar across all three arms, Dr. Charles-Schoeman said.

The study identified a number of baseline characteristics as independent overall risk factors for MACE across all treatment groups. Current smoking and aspirin use more than doubled the risk (HR, 2.18; P < .0001 and HR, 2.11; P = .004, respectively), while age greater than 65 years and male sex approached that level (HR, 1.81; P = .0011 and HR, 1.81; P = .0015) approached that level. Other factors that elevated the risk of MACE to a lesser extent were a history of diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery procedures, and a total cholesterol to HDL ratio greater than4.


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