JIA Guideline Calls for Earlier Use of Targeted Therapies

Neil Osterweil

November 13, 2020

A draft guideline for the management of patients with juvenile idiopathic arthritis reflects changes in therapy away from reliance on NSAIDs and glucocorticoids and toward earlier introduction of biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

The guideline, described in an oral session during the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, contains weighted recommendations for the treatment of JIA, including therapeutic approaches for oligoarthritis, tempromandibular joint (TMJ) arthritis, and systemic JIA (sJIA). The recommendations were the result of expert consensus and literature review using GRADE methodology, with input from clinicians, as well as patients and parents.

"Although evidence remains very low and many recommendations are conditional, the inclusion of parents and patients in the decision-making process strengthens their validity," said project principal investigator Karen Onel, MD, of the Hospital for Special Surgery and Weill Cornell Medicine, both in New York.

She added that "it's important to remember that these guidelines are meant to be guidelines; clinical care remains in the hands of the provider and the patient, and we endorse the importance of shared decision-making in coming to these agreements."

Onel outlined key recommendations for patients for whom a diagnosis of JIA has already been made and who have no contraindications to recommended therapies. The strength of the recommendations (strong or conditional) and evidence levels (high, moderate, low, very low) were also reported.

Oligoarthritis With Fewer Than Five Involved Joints

For these patients, intra-articular glucocorticoids (IAGC) are recommended as a part of initial therapy (strong, very low evidence).

Triamcinolone acetonide is the preferred agent in this situation (strong, low evidence).

The guideline also has a conditional recommendation (very low evidence) for a trial of consistent NSAIDS as part of initial therapy and a conditional recommendation against oral glucocorticoids for initial therapy (very low evidence).

Patients with no or incomplete responses or intolerance to NSAIDS and/or IAGC may be tried on a nonbiologic DMARD (strong, very low evidence), with methotrexate as the preferred agent (conditional, low evidence).

If the patient has no response or an inadequate response to at least one nonbiologic DMARD, biologic DMARDs are recommended (strong, very low evidence), with no preferred agent.

The guideline also conditionally recommends (all with very low evidence) using risk factors and validated disease activity measures to guide treatment decisions, as well as imaging guidance of joints that are difficult to access or to localize the distribution of inflammation.

TMJ Arthritis

For patients with temporomandibular joint arthritis, isolated or not, IAGCs are conditionally recommended as part of initial therapy (very low evidence) with no preferred agents. The guideline also conditionally recommends in favor of a trial of consistent NSAIDs, and against oral glucocorticoids in initial therapy (evidence for both very low).

Recommendations for patients with TMJ with no or an incomplete response to the initial therapy are the same as for patients with oligoarthritis, with no preferred agent.

sJIA Without Macrophage Activation Syndrome

For patients with sJIA without macrophage activation syndrome (MAS), NSAIDS are conditionally recommended as initial monotherapy (very low evidence). Biologic DMARDS (including interleukin-1 and IL-6 inhibitors) are also recommended, conditionally, as initial monotherapy, with no preferred agent.

If the patient has an inadequate response or intolerance to NSAIDS and at least one nonbiologic DMARD, a single biologic DMARD is recommended over a combination of nonbiologic therapies (strong, very low evidence).

"However, there have been reports of emergent, highly severe lung disease associated with the use of biologics in children with systemic JIA, especially in those who are young, with chronic macrophage activation syndrome, and those with trisomy 21. More information is needed to clarify the safety of these agents," Onel said.

There is a conditional recommendation against oral glucocorticoids as initial monotherapy, and strong recommendation against nonbiologic DMARDs as initial monotherapy (both very low evidence).


"Macrophage activation syndrome is a major cause of morbidity and mortality for children with sJIA. Cytokine storm and secondary hemophagocytic syndrome can be seen with any rheumatic disease, but are most commonly seen with sJIA," she said.

The features of MAS include fever, high ferritin levels, cytopenias, elevated liver-function test results, and high triglyceride levels.

For these patients, glucocorticoids are recommended as initial monotherapy (conditional, very low evidence). Biologic DMARDs (IL-1 and IL-6 inhibitors) are recommended over calcineurin inhibitors for achieving inactive disease and resolution of MAS (conditional, very low evidence). There is no preferred agent.

For patients with residual arthritis and an incomplete response to IL-1 or IL-6 inhibitors, biologic and nonbiologic DMARDs are recommended over chronic glucocorticoids (strong, very low evidence). There is no preferred agent.

After an MAS inactive disease state has been attained, the guideline recommends tapering and discontinuing glucocorticoids (strong, very low evidence) and the same for biologic DMARDs (conditional, very low evidence).

All Children With JIA

In addition to the recommendations on specific clinical situations, the guideline includes recommendations for all children with JIA on medication monitoring, laboratory testing, and infection screening, as well as immunization and nonpharmacologic management.

A rheumatologist who was not involved in development of the guidelines commented on the importance of optimal management of JIA.

"Children are not immune from devastating rheumatic diseases, and the largest group is juvenile idiopathic arthritis. In my clinic, I have patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who have adult persistence of their arthritis from JIA who have permanent joint damage and even ongoing hard-to-control disease, and it has to do with the lack of therapies in the 1990s," said Donald Thomas, MD, from Arthritis and Pain Associates of Prince George's County (Md.).

"Today when we get a young adult transitioned from the pediatric clinic they're usually in remission or have low disease activity because these treatments have paralleled those of our adult RA patients. Yet they do [provide clinicians with] unique challenges, with stunting of growth, macrophage activiation syndrome, and having to work with family members of the patient," he said at a press briefing he moderated following the presentation of RA and JIA guidelines.

Eyal Muscal, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, said in an interview that the guidelines clarify recommendations about earlier use of targeted therapies, primarily biologics.

"This will not change care, but hopefully remind all to adopt such strategies. Yet earlier utilization of often expensive biologic agents is delayed by administrative and insurance hurdles in the U.S. and access to these medications globally. I hope the guidelines will enhance advocacy on a state, national, and global stage," he said when asked for comment.

The guideline development process is supported by ACR. Onel, Thomas, and Muscal reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Onel K et al. ACR 2020, Presented November 8.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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