TICOSPA: Efficacy of Treat-to-Target Strategy Suggested in Axial Spondyloarthritis

Mitchel L. Zoler, PhD

June 15, 2020

A treat-to-target strategy for managing patients with axial spondyloarthritis failed to meet its primary efficacy endpoint but still showed several suggestive indications of benefit compared with usual care in a multicenter, randomized study with 160 patients.

The treat-to-target management strategy tested aimed to get patients to an Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Score (ASDAS) of less than 2.1, as recommended for patients with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) by an international task force. Also notable about the study was its primary endpoint, at least a 30% improvement in the Assessment of Spondyloarthritis International Society Health Index (ASAS HI), a measure of health-related quality-of-life that the study organizers selected in part because of its distinction from the treatment target.

"For the first time in rheumatology, we targeted inflammation to have an impact on another domain of the disease. Despite not reaching statistical significance, we see a difference between the groups," Anna Moltó, MD, said at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology, held online this year due to COVID-19.

After 12 months in the study, the 80 axSpA patients assigned to the treat-to-target regimen had a 47% rate of attainment of the primary endpoint, compared with 36% of the 80 patients assigned to usual care, an 11% absolute between-group difference with a P value that came close to but failed to achieve the conventional standard of statistical significance after adjustment for potential confounders (P = .09). Six secondary outcomes showed statistically significant improvements compared with the control patients, including the Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index (BASDAI), the ASAS 20, and ASAS 40. Five additional metrics showed nominal between-group improvements with the treat-to-target strategy that were not statistically significant, including various forms of the ASDAS.

One additional notable finding came from a cost-efficacy analysis run by Dr. Moltó and associates, which showed that the treat-to-target strategy was "dominant" over usual care by producing both better outcomes as well as a lower total cost, compared with control patients, even though twice as many patients on the treat-to-target strategy received a biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (bDMARD) compared with patients in the usual care group. The incremental cost utility ratio for treat-to-target was 19,430 euros (about $22,000) per quality-adjusted life-year gained, putting the strategy into the range of a "cost effective" approach, and the two treatment arms also had comparable safety, said Dr. Moltó, a rheumatologist at Cochin Hospital in Paris. The 11% increase in treat-to-target patients achieving at least a 30% improvement in their ASAS HI score "is potentially clinically relevant" because the comparator arm in the study received "very active" usual care and was not by any measure a true placebo control group, noted Maxime Dougados, MD, a rheumatologist and professor or medicine at Cochin Hospital and senior investigator for the study. In general, in treatment studies of rheumatologic diseases a 10% or greater absolute increase in the incidence of a beneficial outcome is considered clinically meaningful when compared with an actively-treated control arm, he noted. "Using the ASAS HI score was very ambitious for the study, and it's a very relevant outcome," said Sofia Ramiro, MD, a rheumatologist at Leiden (the Netherlands) University Medical Center who was not associated with the study and chaired the session where Dr. Moltó gave her report. "We have had treat-to-target trials that showed benefit when disease activity was the endpoint." But when a study "targets treatment to [reducing] disease activity and then uses disease activity as the outcome measure you expect to see an effect, but it is circular reasoning and we are left with challenges in interpreting the results. Now we have a trial that is formally [neutral] but with a different, more ambitious endpoint. All the indications are for benefit from treat-to-target for both the primary endpoint and for all the other endpoints." "We were in a difficult situation when choosing the outcome. We didn't know whether a 30% improvement in the ASAS HI was really relevant, but it seems to be," said Désirée van der Heijde, MD, a rheumatologist and professor of medicine at Leiden University Medical Center and a collaborator on Dr. Moltó's study. "I'd choose ASAS HI again as a primary endpoint" for a treat-to-target study in patients with axSpA, she said, but added that a 30% improvement in this score as the response threshold may warrant reconsideration. Both Dr. van der Heijde and Dr. Dougados agreed that at least one additional study with a somewhat similar design is needed to better document and confirm a role for a treat-to-target strategy in axSpA patients.

The Tight Control in Spondyloarthritis (TICOSPA) study ran at 10 French centers and 4 centers each in Belgium and the Netherlands. The study enrolled adults with rheumatologist-diagnosed axSpA with an ASDAS score greater than 2.1 who had not yet received a bDMARD, had not yet maxed out on their dosage of NSAIDs, and had certain baseline immunologic and imaging findings available. The researchers randomized 160 patients to either treat-to-target or usual care management by the center they attended to prevent cross contamination of management strategies. The treat-to-target regimen involved office examinations and consultations every 4 weeks rather than every 3 months with usual care, and also required a predefined management strategy with treatment prompts based on the strategy sent to the treating clinicians via the EMR. The average age of the patients was 38 years, they had been diagnosed with axSpA for an average of just under 4 years, and their mean ASDAS score at entry was 3. During the 12 months of management, 56% of the patients in the treat-to-target arm initiated treatment with a bDMARD, compared with 28% among the controls. Use of NSAIDs was similar between the two study subgroups.

TICOSPA was sponsored by UCB. Dr. Moltó has been a consultant to and received research funding from AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer, and UCB. Dr. Dougados has had financial relationships with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen, Lilly, Novartis, Merck, Pfizer, and UCB. Dr. van der Heijde has had financial relationships with more than 20 companies including UCB. Dr. Ramiro had been a consultant to or received research funding from AbbVie, Eli Lilly, Merck Sharp & Dohme, Novartis, and Sanofi.

SOURCE: Moltó A et al. Ann Rheum Dis. 2020 Jun;79[suppl 1]:413.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com.

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