Patients With Stable Lupus May Be Safely Weaned Off MMF

Patients with quiescent systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who are on maintenance therapy with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) may be able to be safely weaned off the drug with the understanding that disease flare may occur and may require restarting immunosuppressive therapy.

That’s the conclusion of investigators in a multicenter randomized trial conducted at 19 US centers and published on January 29 in The Lancet Rheumatology. They found that among 100 patients with stable SLE who were on MMF for at least 2 years for renal indications or at least 1 year for nonrenal indications, MMF withdrawal was not significantly inferior to MMF maintenance in terms of clinically significant disease reactivation within at least 1 year.

Dr Eliza Chakravarty

“Our findings suggest that mycophenolate mofetil could be safely withdrawn in patients with stable SLE. However, larger studies with a longer follow-up are still needed,” wrote Eliza F. Chakravarty, MD, MS, from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City, and colleagues.

“Our study was only for 60 weeks, so we don’t have long-term data on what happens when patients taper off, but my recommendation — and I think the data support this — is that even if you do have a history of lupus nephritis, if you had stable disease or very little to no activity for a year or 2, then I think it’s worth stopping the medication and following for any signs of disease flare,” Chakravarty said in an interview with Medscape Medical News. 

She added that “in clinical practice, we would follow patients regularly no matter what they’re on, even if they’re in remission, looking for clinical signs or laboratory evidence of flare, and then if they look like they might be having flare, treat them accordingly.”

Toxicities a Concern

Although MMF is effective for inducing prolonged disease quiescence, it is a known teratogen and has significant toxicities, and it’s desirable to wean patients off the drug if it can be done safely, Chakravarty said.

The optimal duration of maintenance therapy with MMF is not known, however, which prompted the researchers to conduct the open-label study.

Patients aged 18-70 years who met the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 1997 SLE criteria and had a clinical SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) score ≤ 4 at screening and who also had been on stable or tapering MMF therapy for 2 or more years for renal indications or 1 or more year for nonrenal indications were eligible. All patients were on a background regimen of hydroxychloroquine.

Patients were randomly assigned on an equal basis to either withdrawal with a 12-week taper or to continued maintenance at their baseline dose, ranging from 1 to 3 g/day for 60 weeks. 

The investigators used an adaptive random-allocation strategy to ensure that the groups were balanced for study site, renal vs nonrenal disease, and baseline MMF dose (≥ 2 g/day vs < 2 g/day).

A total of 100 patients with an average age of 42 years were included in a modified intention-to-treat analysis: 49 were randomly assigned to maintenance and 51 to withdrawal.

Overall, 84% of patients were women, 40% were White, and 41% were Black. Most patients, 76%, had a history of lupus nephritis. 

Significant disease reactivation, the primary endpoints, was defined as the need to increase prednisone to ≥ 15 mg/day for 4 weeks, the need for two or more short steroid bursts, or the need to resume MMF or start patients on another immunosuppressive therapy.

By week 60, 18% of patients in the withdrawal group had clinically significant disease reactivation compared with 10% of patients in the maintenance group.

“Although the differences were not significant, this study used an estimation-based design to determine estimated increases in clinically significant disease reactivation risk with 75%, 85%, and 95% confidence limits to assist clinicians and patients in making informed treatment decisions. We found a 6%-8% increase with upper 85% confidence limits of 11%-19% in clinically significant disease reactivation and flare risk following mycophenolate mofetil withdrawal,” the investigators wrote.

Rates of adverse events were similar between the groups, occurring in 90% of patients in the maintenance arm and 88% of those in the withdrawal arm. Infections occurred more frequently among patients in the maintenance group, at 64% vs 46%.

Encouraging Data

In an accompanying editorial, Noémie Jourde-Chiche, MD, PhD, from Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, and Laurent Chiche, MD, from Hopital Europeen de Marseille, wrote that the study data “were clearly encouraging.” They noted that the results show that it’s feasible to wean select patients off immunosuppressive therapy and keep SLE in check and that the quantified risk assessment strategy will allow shared decision-making for each patient.

“Overall, the prospect of a time-limited (versus lifelong) treatment may favor compliance, as observed in other disease fields, which might consolidate remission and

reduce the risk of subsequent relapse, using sequentially treat-to-target and think-to-untreat strategies for a win-wean era in SLE,” they wrote.

Dr Karen Costenbader

“We’ve been awaiting the results of this trial for quite a while, and so it is nice to see it out,” commented Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chair of the division of rheumatology and director of the Lupus Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

“It does provide some data to address a question that comes up in discussions with patients all the time: A person with lupus has been doing really well, in what we call low disease activity state or remission, but on mycophenolate, possibly for several years,” she said in a reply to a request for objective commentary.

“The question is how and when to taper and can MMF be safely discontinued,” she said. “Personally, I always review the severity of the underlying disease and indication for the MMF in the first place. Really active SLE with rapidly progressing kidney or other organ damage has to be treated with tremendous respect and no one wants to go back there. I also think about how long it has been, which other medications are still being taken (hydroxychloroquine, belimumab [Benlysta], etc.) and whether the labs and symptoms have really returned to completely normal. Then I have discussions about all this with my patient and we often try a long, slow, gingerly taper with a lot of interim monitoring.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin DiseasesChakravarty and Costenbader report no relevant financial relationships. Jourde-Chiche declares personal consulting fees from Otsuka and AstraZeneca, personal speaking fees from GlaxoSmithKline and Otsuka, and personal payment for expert testimony from Otsuka. Chiche declares research grants paid to his institution from AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, personal consulting fees from Novartis and AstraZeneca, and personal speaking fees from GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. 

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Publish date : 2024-02-07 23:17:28

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