Data Call for Biologics Trials in Undertreated Juvenile Arthritis Subtype

Heidi Splete

January 11, 2021

Children with enthesitis-related arthritis often have a high burden of disease and could benefit from medications currently approved for adults with spondyloarthritis, according to a review published in Arthritis Care & Research.

Dr Pamela Weiss

"Enthesitis-related arthritis (ERA) was the JIA [juvenile idiopathic arthritis] category applied to children with spondyloarthritis (SpA), recognizing enthesitis as a defining characteristic," wrote Pamela F. Weiss, MD, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues.

The ERA criteria include "arthritis plus enthesitis; or arthritis or enthesitis plus at least two of the following: sacroiliac tenderness or inflammatory back pain, HLA-B27 positivity, first-degree relative with HLA-B27–associated disease, acute anterior uveitis, and arthritis in a male older than 6 years," the review authors noted.

"None of the [Food and Drug Administration]–approved therapies for peripheral SpA or nonradiographic axial SpA" have been studied or approved for use in children with ERA, but data support biologic similarity to SpA in adults; notably, studies of the HLA-B27 allele have identified it as a risk factor for both SpA and ERA, they said.

Common Factors in Adult and Childhood Conditions

"The principal commonalities of children with ERA and axial arthritis, and adults with nonradiographic axial SpA, include enthesitis, arthritis, inflammatory back pain, anterior uveitis, HLA-B27 positivity, and family history of HLA-B27–associated disease," the review authors wrote.

The first-line treatment for both ERA with axial arthritis and nonradiographic axial SpA is NSAIDs, followed by tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors if needed, they said. However, conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (cDMARDs) may be used in cases of peripheral disease affecting five or more joints. Studies of treatment response show similarities between ERA in children and SpA in adults, the authors added, with nearly half of adults with axial disease unable to achieve remission and approximately one-third of children with ERA failing to respond to therapy.

Clinical trials could improve options and outcomes for those with ERA who need advanced therapy and such trials should evaluate response of axial and peripheral disease separately, the review authors emphasized. For example, "Eligibility criteria for children with ERA and axial features could include the presence of some of the following disease features: active inflammatory sacroiliitis based on typical MRI changes according to ASAS/OMERACT [Assessment of SpondyloArthritis international Society/Outcome Measures in Rheumatology Clinical Trials] criteria; elevated CRP [C-reactive protein]; and inadequate response or intolerance to NSAIDs," they noted. "Considering the similarities between adult spondyloarthritis and ERA in terms of etiology, genetics, pathogenesis, and clinical manifestations, it is evident that medications approved for axial or peripheral SpA should be studied in children with ERA involving axial or peripheral joints, respectively, with the intent to achieve labeling for use in children," they concluded.

New Data Highlight Era Disease Burden

The need for additional therapies for ERA patients gained more support from a recent study in which a majority of children with ERA or juvenile psoriatic arthritis (jPsA) used biologics, but those with sacroiliitis in particular showed a significant disease burden despite high biologic use.

Dr Dax Rumsey

The International Leagues Against Rheumatism criteria include seven categories of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, of which ERA and jPsA are the most common; however, characteristics of these children have not been well described, wrote Dax G. Rumsey, MD, of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and colleagues.

"Children with ERA are more likely to have a clinical picture with predominantly peripheral arthritis, typically described as an oligoarthritis involving the lower limbs with high risk of axial disease, relative to the other categories of JIA," and report more intense pain and worse health status, compared with children in other categories, the researchers wrote.

To more completely characterize children with ERA and jPsA, the researchers assessed 522 children with ERA and 380 with jPsA. The children were enrolled in the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) Registry. The findings were published in a brief report in Arthritis Care & Research.

Overall, 69% of the children took at least one biologic, including 72% with ERA and 64% with jPsA. Biologic use was even higher (81%) among the 28% of patients with sacroiliitis (40% of ERA patients and 12% of jPsA patients). Approximately 36% of the patients with sacroiliitis were positive for HLA-B27. In addition, Physician Global Assessment scores and clinical Juvenile Arthritis Disease Activity Score-10 (cJADAS10) scores were significantly higher at the first clinical visit with sacroiliitis, compared with the first visit without, which confirms "the clinical impression that active sacroiliitis significantly impacts children and their families," the researchers said.

The average age at diagnosis was 10.8 years for ERA and 8.2 years for jPsA, and significantly more ERA patients were male (56% vs. 38%). However, more of the patients with sacroiliitis (54%) were female. More than half of the patients reported polyarticular involvement.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the classification of ERA or jPsA and the reliance on physician diagnoses, as well as the variation in identifying sacroiliitis, the researchers said. However, the results increase understanding of the pathophysiology of ERA and jPsA to help determine optimal treatment, they concluded.

Data Highlight Research and Treatment Gaps

"Recent research demonstrates a large, unmet medical need in the treatment of JIA with 52%-65% of all JIA patients, including those with ERA and jPsA, having been treated with at least one biologic DMARD and 15%-19% having been treated with an FDA-unapproved biologic. In those with ERA or jPsA, 72%-79% of the children had been treated with a biologic DMARD, although no biologic DMARD has ever been FDA approved for these JIA categories," Daniel J. Lovell, MD, and Hermine I. Brunner, MD, both with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the new study. Lovell and Brunner also were coauthors of the review article.

The new study supports findings from other recent publications, the editorialists noted. The new results showed "a significant proportion of the JIA population with active sacroiliitis with high disease burden despite very frequent (over 80% of the population) [treatment] with unstudied and unapproved biologic DMARDs," they said. "These children with sacroiliitis had significantly greater disease burden with higher physician assessment of disease activity, higher parent assessment of disease impact, and higher disease activity as measured by the Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Disease Activity Score, compared to the children with ERA or jPsA without sacroiliitis," they noted.

Previously, "the FDA granted pharmaceutical companies studying new treatments in adult SpA automatic full waivers from doing studies in children for new medications for 'axial spondyloarthropathies including ankylosing spondylitis' up until July 2020," the editorialists said. However, "It is now time now for the pharmaceutical industry to perform FDA-monitored clinical trials of children and adolescents with SpA," they emphasized. "This will allow for the scientific assessment of proper dosing, efficacy, and safety of the increasing number of new medications that are being licensed by the FDA for the treatment of SpA, such as the anti-TNF, anti–IL[interleukin]-17, and anti–IL-23 biologics, and perhaps JAK [Janus kinase] agents, to address this unmet medical need in these patients with juvenile SpA," they concluded.

Weiss disclosed grant support from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), and financial relationships with Eli Lilly and Pfizer. Lovell disclosed relationships with companies including Abbott, AbbVie Amgen, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Hoffmann-La Roche, Janssen, Novartis, Pfizer, Takeda, UCB, and Wyeth, as well as serving on the data and safety monitoring board for Forest Research and NIAMS. Brunner disclosed relationships with companies including Ablynx, AbbVie, AstraZeneca-MedImmune, Biogen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Eli Lilly, EMD Serono, F. Hoffmann-La Roche, Genzyme, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, R-Pharm, and Sanofi. The study by Rumsey and colleagues was supported by Amgen. Rumsey and colleagues had no relevant financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCES: Weiss PF et al. Arthritis Care Res. 2020 Dec 5. doi: 10.1002/acr.24529; Rumsey DG et al. Arthritis Care Res. 2020 Dec. 16. doi: 10.1002/acr.24537; Lovell DJ and Brunner HI. Arthritis Care Res. 2020 Dec 16. doi: 10.1002/acr.24536.

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