Clinical evaluation of the safety, efficacy and tolerability of sarilumab in the treatment of moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis
Authors Pelechas E, Voulgari PV, Drosos AA
Received 18 June 2019
Accepted for publication 28 August 2019
Published 4 September 2019 Volume 2019:15 Pages 1073—1079
Checked for plagiarism Yes
Review by Single anonymous peer review
Peer reviewer comments 2
Editor who approved publication: Professor Garry Walsh
Eleftherios Pelechas, Paraskevi V Voulgari, Alexandros A Drosos
Rheumatology Clinic, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece
Correspondence: Alexandros A Drosos
Rheumatology Clinic, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical School, University of Ioannina, Ioannina 45110, Greece
Tel +30 265 100 7503
Fax +30 265 100 7054
Abstract: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that is characterised by synovial inflammation and progressive joint disorder with significant pain and stiffness, which lead to functional disability and systemic complications if left untreated. Although methotrexate (MTX) is the cornerstone in the RA therapy, it is ineffective or intolerable in up to 50% of patients. In addition, tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors which are regarded as the standard of care for those patients, have not been proven a panacea creating a therapeutic gap. In this direction, other cytokines such as the interleukin (IL)-6 in combination with MTX or as monotherapy have been approved. Sarilumab has already been approved for the treatment of moderate to severe RA, but more studies are on their way including polymyalgia rheumatica, giant cell arteritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and indolent systemic mastocytosis. On the other hand, a study was prematurely discontinued after approximately 1.5 years, when the ankylosing spondylitis development program was discontinued due to lack of efficacy. Regarding safety, efficacy and tolerability of the molecule, three pivotal clinical trials have established sarilumab as one of the safe and efficacious choices for the treatment of RA (mobility, target and monarch trials). Significant decreases in progression of structural damage have been demonstrated. Infections and neutropenia are two of the most common adverse events. Sarilumab is beyond any doubt another molecule that can be added to the clinicians’ armamentarium for the treatment of patients with moderate to severe RA with a good safety and efficacy profile.
Keywords: interleukin-6, sarilumab, monoclonal antibody, tocilizumab, immunogenicity
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that is characterised by synovial inflammation and progressive joint disorder with significant pain and stiffness. If left untreated, functional disability and systemic complications may appear leading to poor quality of life.1,2 Extra-articular manifestations and systemic comorbidities are not infrequent.3 The prevalence of RA worldwide is approximately 1% making it the most common autoimmune inflammatory arthritis in adults.4 Women are more often affected than men while the onset of the disease tends to occur between the fourth and the sixth decade of life.5
In the last years, better and more effective treatments and strategies are constantly being developed. Our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying RA pathogenesis is the main reason. Although the exact aetiology is unknown, genetic susceptibility, epigenetic contributions, and environmental triggers have all been implicated in the pathogenesis of RA.3 Treat-to-target and tight control strategies are recommended currently.6 Nowadays, there are several therapeutic choices relied on three different classes of medications: a) conventional synthetic (cs) disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), b) biological (b) DMARDs and, c) targeted synthetic (ts) DMARDs. In addition, biosimilars, a new subcategory of bDMARDs has emerged which are highly similar to the bio-originator in terms of safety, efficacy and tolerability.7,8
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guideline serves as a tool for the pharmacologic treatment decisions in patients with RA.6 Patients with early RA can benefit from monotherapy with a csDMARD, preferably methotrexate (MTX). For those with moderate to high disease activity despite the use of a csDMARD as monotherapy, a combination treatment strategy with another csDMARD or adding a bDMARD/tsDMARD is recommended.5 Although MTX is considered the cornerstone in the treatment of RA, it is ineffective or intolerable in up to 50% of patients.9 Furthermore, tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, which are regarded as the standard of care for those patients, have not been proved a panacea, creating a therapeutic gap.10,11 In this direction, the inhibition of other cytokines such as the interleukin (IL)-6 has been approved. IL-6 inhibitors can be used as monotherapy or in combination with MTX which appears to have a synergistic effect.12,13
The role of IL-6 in RA
IL-6 is crucially implicated in the activation of the acute inflammatory response. It acts locally by promoting joint inflammation and destruction, but also systemically leading to systemic manifestation of RA. Other important cytokines that are implicated in the acute inflammatory response are several proinflammatory cytokines, including the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, and IL-1.14 Thus, targeting these cytokines as a therapeutic intervention is a rational and efficient choice. The TNF-α was the first cytokine that was targeted for the treatment of RA. The rationale of using IL-6 inhibition as a therapeutic target appeared later (monotherapy or in combination with MTX), showing to be an efficacious and safe choice for the RA patients covering also a part of the unmet needs in the RA therapeutics.15 The first IL-6 agent was tocilizumab, approved for the treatment of moderately to severely active RA by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. In 2011, the FDA approved tocilizumab for the treatment of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis while in 2017 for giant cell arteritis. Other IL-6 agents that were/are under development are: clazakizumab,16 olokizumab,17 sirukumab18 and sarilumab. To date, only sarilumab has been approved by the FDA, European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Canada (2017) for the treatment of patients with moderately to severely active RA who had an inadequate response to ≥1 DMARDs12 or as monotherapy.
The IL-6 molecule sarilumab
Despite the advances in RA treatment, patients are still in a need of new treatment options. Sarilumab is expected to work in this direction. It is a human, IgG1 monoclonal antibody produced in Chinese Hamster Ovary cells by recombinant DNA technology that binds to the α-subunit of the membrane-bound and soluble IL-6 receptors inhibiting IL-6 signaling.19
Indications, pharmacokinetics and dosage scheme
As mentioned above, sarilumab is indicated for the treatment of moderately to severely active RA in adult patients. It can be given in combination with MTX in patients who have responded inadequately to, or who are intolerant to one or more DMARDs, but also as monotherapy in case of intolerance to MTX or when treatment with MTX is inappropriate.
It comes as a pre-filled syringe and pre-filled pen in 150 mg and 200 mg dose. The recommended dose is 200 mg once every 2 weeks as a subcutaneous (s.c.) injection but it can be reduced to 150 mg once every 2 weeks in patients who develop neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, and liver dysfunction.19
Regarding the pharmacokinetics of the drug, it has a Cmax of 2–4 days after administration reaching a steady state within 14–16 weeks. The half-life is concentration-dependent. Thus, for the 150 mg dose is <8 days while for the 200 mg dose it can reach up to 10 days. No dose-adjustments are required for patients with hepatic or renal impairment as it is not excreted by the hepatic or renal systems. Non-detectable levels of the drug can be achieved 28 days after discontinuation for the 150 mg dosage scheme or 43 days after the discontinuation of the 200 mg dosage scheme.20
Safety, efficacy, tolerability and immunogenicity of sarilumab
Table 1 Clinical program of sarilumab in RA patients
Mobility part A was a phase II clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of sarilumab in patients with moderate to severe RA. A total of 306 patients were randomised to receive placebo or s.c. sarilumab plus MTX. Different dosage schemes have been tried with 100/150 mg weekly, 100/150 mg every 2 weeks, or 200 mg every 2 weeks. The 150 mg and 200 mg regimen every 2 weeks had the most favourable safety and efficacy profile and it was further evaluated in phase III. Compared to placebo, sarilumab achieved higher ACR20 response (72% vs 46.2%).22 Adverse events ranged from 43–72% depending on the different treatment regimens and 47% with placebo. Infections were the most common adverse events but they were not serious. Neutropenia and increased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were also noted.
Mobility part B was a 62-week, phase III clinical trial that recruited a total of 1369 patients. The three primary endpoints were: a) the proportion of patients who achieved ACR20 response at week 24, b) change from baseline in physical function (HAQ-DI index – health assessment questionnaire disability index) at week 16, and c) the change from baseline in the modified Sharp/van der Heijde score (SHS) of radiographic damage at week 52. Patients who received sarilumab 150 mg or 200 mg every 2 weeks plus MTX had an ACR20 response of 58% and 66.4% respectively at week 24, while patients who received placebo plus MTX had an ACR20 score of 33.4%. HAQ-DI scores had a mean change of −0.53, −0.55, and −0.29 respectively. Finally, the SHS mean change at week 24 from baseline was 0.90 and 0.25 compared with 2.78 in the placebo group. Infections were again the most common adverse events (150 mg: 40.6%, 200 mg: 39.6%, placebo: 31.1%) with serious infections occurring in 2.6%, 4% and 2.3% respectively. Opportunistic infections, hypersensitivity reactions, increase in ALT levels, elevations in fasting total cholesterol levels, reductions in the absolute neutrophil count and neoplasms have also been described.23
Target was a multicenter, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase III clinical trial that evaluated the safety and efficacy of sarilumab in 546 patients who did not respond to TNF inhibitors therapy. Sarilumab of 150 mg and 200 mg every 2 weeks in combination with MTX versus placebo plus MTX were evaluated for a period of 24 weeks. The results shown that both primary endpoints (ACR20 response at week 24 and change from baseline in the HAQ-DI score at week 12) were achieved. In detail, ACR20 response for the 150 mg sarilumab was 55.8% and 60.9% for the 200 mg while for the placebo group the ACR20 was 33.7%. In addition, the HAQ-DI scores had a mean change of −0.46, −0.47 and −0.26 respectively. Furthermore, an ACR50 response achieved by the 37%, 40.8% and 18.2% of patients respectively while an ACR70 response achieved by the 19.9%, 16.3% and 7.2% of patients respectively. Approximately the same adverse reactions were noted as in the mobility trial.24
Monarch was a multicenter, randomised, double-blind, double-dummy, phase III clinical trial that evaluated the safety and efficacy of sarilumab 200 mg plus placebo once every 2 weeks versus adalimumab 40 mg plus placebo once every 2 weeks in patients with active RA for a period of 24 weeks. Sarilumab has been shown to be superior to adalimumab in the prementioned dosage schemes. The disease activity score 28 erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR) mean change scores from baseline to week 24 were −3.28 versus −2.2 respectively. Furthermore, it has shown a 3-fold greater probability of achieving remission at week 12 and a 5-fold probability at week 24. As far as it concerns the ACR20 response, 71.7% of the sarilumab group have reached the goal versus 58.4% of the adalimumab group. A higher percentage of patients from the sarilumab group achieved also better ACR50 and ACR70 responses (45.7% versus 29.7% and 23.4% versus 11.9%). Finally, sarilumab has been shown to achieve better scores in HAQ-DI, clinical disease activity index (CDAI) and short form (SF)-36 physical component. The SF-36 mental component and functional assessment of chronic illness therapy-fatigue (FACIT-F) were similar between the 2 groups. Both groups showed similar incidence rates for several adverse and serious adverse events. Sarilumab had a greater percentage of neutropenias and injection site reactions while adalimumab had a greater percentage of headaches and dyslipidemias.25
Easy was a 12-week, multicenter, randomised, open-label, parallel-group usability study of the sarilumab pen and prefilled syringe in a total of 217 patients. The primary endpoint was the number of validated product technical failures. Only one product technical failure had been observed whereas most of the patients were satisfied with the pen. No difference in adverse events between the two groups (syringe versus pen) was observed. The study demonstrated the ease of use of the sarilumab pen when used by patients with RA in an unsupervised setting.26
In the ascertain study, a randomised, double-blind, double-dummy study, sarilumab (150 mg or 200 mg every 2 weeks) has been compared with tocilizumab (4 mg/kg every 4 weeks intravenously, increased to 8 mg/kg if clinically indicated) in terms of safety and tolerability when administered as single or multiple doses in patients with RA. The primary outcome was the number of participants with treatment emergent adverse events in a time frame up to 211 days (all adverse events that occurred from the first dose of the study drug administration up to 60 days after the end of treatment visit). At the end of the study neutropenia and infections were the two more common adverse events in both groups and no clinically meaningful differences were found. Adverse events occurred more frequently in the groups receiving higher doses of the drugs.27
Extend was an open-label, randomised, parallel group study assessing the immunogenicity and safety of sarilumab administered as monotherapy in patients with active RA in a period of 24 weeks. The primary endpoint was to assess the percentage of participants with incidence of antidrug antibodies (ADAs) in the two dosage schemes (150 mg and 200 mg every 2 weeks s.c.). The results shown that 8 (12.3%) versus 4 (6.1%) patients had persistent ADAs of whom 7 (10.8%) versus 2 (3%) patients had neutralising ADAs in the 150 mg and 200 mg group respectively but they did not meaningfully impact the safety or efficacy or either dose of sarilumab over the 24 weeks period.28
Compare was a randomised, controlled study of sarilumab and MTX versus etanercept (ETN) and MTX in patients with RA and an inadequate response to 4 months of treatment with adalimumab and MTX. Unfortunately, the study was prematurely terminated due to small number of participants entering randomisation and not due to any identified safety concerns.29
The NCT01217814 trial was a randomised, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo- and active calibrato-controlled study assessing the clinical benefit of SAR153191 s.c. on top of MTX in patients with active RA who have failed previous TNF-α antagonists. This study was terminated due to delay in the study and the impact on the development timelines, not due to any identified safety concerns.30
The NCT02293902, is a recently published, randomised, double-blind, multicenter, phase III study with a placebo-controlled period assessing the efficacy and safety of sarilumab added to MTX in Japanese patients with moderately to severely active RA who are inadequate responders to MTX therapy. The primary endpoint was the proportion of patients achieving ACR20 responses at week 24. Sarilumab 150 mg achieved an ACR20 response in the 67.9% of the patients followed by 57.5% and 14.8% for the sarilumab 200 mg and placebo respectively. The authors concluded that the safety profiles of both doses of sarilumab were generally similar and as expected based on IL-6 class.31,32
Sarilumab has already been approved for the treatment of moderate to severe RA, but more studies are on their way.33 Currently, there are five recruiting studies in total. Two for juvenile idiopathic arthritis (phase II studies), a phase II study for indolent systemic mastocytosis, and two, phase III studies for giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. In addition, there are two studies that are not recruiting yet regarding morphea and RA during pregnancy. On the other hand, a study was prematurely discontinued after approximately 1.5 years, when the ankylosing spondylitis development program was discontinued due to lack of efficacy in the DRI11073 study. In Table 2, sarilumab indications beyond RA are shown.
Table 2 Other indications of sarilumab beyond RA
Sarilumab has a robust Clinical Development Program with a variety of clinical phase II and III studies already having positive results and there are more coming on different indications. At the moment, it represents an effective biologic agent for the treatment of moderate to severe RA. As it lacks a head-to-head comparison with tocilizumab we cannot be directly sure about the superiority of the molecule, but because of the greater affinity to IL-6 than that of tocilizumab we can assume this. Nevertheless, the efficacy and safety profiles are very similar to the already available IL-6 targeting drug tocilizumab, and include significant decreases in progression of structural damage. On the other hand, sarilumab has already proved its superiority to the TNF inhibitor adalimumab when used as monotherapy. Notwithstanding the above, more clinical studies are needed to elucidate the exact pathophysiological mechanisms of IL-6 and if IL-6 is a better option than TNF inhibitors to be used from the start of RA.
Sarilumab is beyond any doubt another molecule that can be added to the clinicians’ armamentarium for the treatment of patients with moderate to severe RA with a good safety and efficacy profile.
The authors report no conflicts of interest in this work.
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