Baricitinib shows potential as lupus treatment



– A significantly higher proportion of patients with lupus experienced improvements in joint and skin symptoms if they were treated with baricitinib (Olumiant) than if they received placebo in a phase 2 trial.

The primary endpoint of arthritis or rash resolution as measured by the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Disease Activity Index 2000 (SLEDAI-2K) was met by approximately 67% of patients who were treated with 4 mg baricitinib once daily and by around 53% of patients given a matching placebo (P less than .05).

Dr. Daniel J. Wallace

Dr. Daniel J. Wallace

Patients receiving 4 mg baricitinib also achieved the major secondary endpoint of an SRI-4 response at a significantly higher rate than the placebo group (64.4% vs. 47.6%, P less than .05). The SRI-4 response is defined as a 4-point improvement in SLEDAI-2K with no alternation in British Isles Lupus Assessment Group A and B scores or physician global assessment.

With no new safety concerns, these findings suggest that baricitinib could be of benefit in patients with SLE and further study is warranted in a phase 3 trial, said the presenting study investigator Daniel J. Wallace, MD, at the European Congress of Rheumatology. Dr. Wallace is the associate director of the Rheumatology Fellowship Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

Baricitinib is already approved for use as a treatment for RA in more than 40 countries. On June 1, Eli Lilly announced that the Food and Drug Administration had given the green light for its use in RA in the United States, but only at a dose of 2 mg once daily, whereas a 2-mg and 4-mg once-daily dose is approved in most other countries.

Data from the phase 2 trial presented by Dr. Wallace did include a 2-mg dose arm, but the difference in treatment response rates versus placebo was not statistically significant.

Dr. Thomas Dörner

Dr. Thomas Dörner

This needs to be put in context, said study coauthor Thomas Dörner, MD, PhD, in a video interview at the congress. At recruitment, the 314 patients included in the study were allowed to remain on stable treatment that could include corticosteroids, NSAIDs, antimalarials, and immunosuppressants.

“I think the placebo response is mainly inflated by the use of corticosteroids,” said Dr. Dörner, professor of medicine at Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin. “If one would have applied a steroid tapering regimen, I would have expected a larger effect size, and possibly also the 2-mg [dose] be more effective as compared to placebo.” This is something to consider when moving into a phase 3 trial, he suggested.

For inclusion in the phase 2 trial, patients had to meet the following criteria: Be positive for antinuclear antibodies and/or a positive anti-dsDNA test, have a SLEDAI-2K clinical score of 4 or more, and have active SLEDAI arthritis and/or rash. Patients with severe active lupus nephritis or CNS involvement were excluded.

The mean age of patients was around 44 years, and as might be expected, the study population was predominantly female (99%). Around two-thirds of patients were white, 19% were of Asian descent, and the rest were designated as “other”. The average time to SLE onset was 9.7 years in the placebo group and just over 11 years in the baricitinib arms, with similar SLEDAI-2K scores of about 8-9, about 7-8 tender joints, and about five swollen joints at baseline.

A number of other secondary endpoints were also met by the 4 mg baricitinib group, Dr. Wallace reported. This included the relatively new Lupus Low Disease Activity State, he said, which was met by 38% (n = 27) of patients treated with 4 mg baricitinib, 33% (n = 35) treated with 2 mg baricitinib, and 26% (n = 27) of those given placebo (P less than .05 for the 4-mg dose vs. placebo). There were also numerically fewer SLE flares, including fewer severe flares.

“Some of the other outcomes demonstrated statistical significance: Physician Global Assessment, tender joint count, worst joint pain, and worst pain on a numeric rating scale,” Dr. Wallace said. A trend towards improvement was seen in the swollen joint count, with modest improvement in fatigue.

Treatment-emergent adverse events were seen in around 71%-73% of patients given baricitinib and 65% of patients given placebo. Most were mild or moderate in nature, but serious adverse events did occur in approximately 10% of patients who received baricitinib and in 4% of those who received placebo.

What’s noteworthy, Dr. Dörner said during a press briefing, is the very low rate of venous thromboembolism seen in the trial. “We’d have expected to see more deep vein thrombosis,” he said. Only one case occurred, in a patent taking the 4-mg dose, but this patient had preexisting antiphospholipid antibodies.

Additionally, although the percentage of patients with serious infections was slightly higher in the 2 and 4 mg baricitinib arms than for placebo (1.9% and 5.8% vs. 1%, respectively) “this is what we expect for lupus patients,” Dr. Dörner said. Furthermore, herpes zoster infection, which is very often reactivated in lupus because of the disease or its treatment, was only reported in one patient in the placebo group and in one patient in the 4 mg group.

“I think there is a very promising outlook, at least for the 4-mg dose of baricitinib,” Dr. Dörner said. “There have been no new safety or tolerability issues when compared to the RA population, and we’re looking forward to seeing subsequent studies in this [SLE] patient population where we have a need for more efficacious therapies.”

The study was funded by Eli Lilly. Dr. Dörner was part of the trial’s steering committee and has acted as a consultant for Eli Lilly. He has also received grant or research support from Roche/Chugai, Janssen, and Sanofi-Aventis; consulted for AbbVie, Celgene, Roche, UCB, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Pfizer/Hospira, and Novartis; and he is part of the speakers bureaus for Amgen, Celgene, and Biogen. Dr. Wallace has acted as a consultant for Eli Lilly, as well as EMD Serono, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline.

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