New ACR Guidelines Give Advice on Six Forms of Vasculitis

Steve Cimino

July 15, 2021

Three new guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology, in partnership with the Vasculitis Foundation, offer evidence-based recommendations for managing and treating six different forms of systemic vasculitis.

Dr Sharon Chung

"It's not unusual for many rheumatologists to have fairly limited experience caring for patients with vasculitis," coauthor Sharon Chung, MD, director of the Vasculitis Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, said in an interview. "And with limited experience comes anxiety and concerns about whether or not one is treating patients appropriately. First and foremost, these guidelines are to help rheumatologists who may not have experience treating patients with vasculitides, to provide them with a framework they can use."

The guidelines – the first to be produced and endorsed by both the ACR and the Vasculitis Foundation – were published July 8 in both Arthritis & Rheumatology and Arthritis Care & Research.

To assess the recent expansion in diagnostic and treatment options for various forms of vasculitis, the ACR assembled a literature review team, an 11-person patient panel, and a voting panel – made up of 9 adult rheumatologists, 5 pediatric rheumatologists, and 2 patients – to evaluate evidence, provide feedback, and formulate and vote on recommendations, respectively. The guidelines cover six types of vasculitis: one focusing on giant cell arteritis (GCA) and Takayasu arteritis (TAK); one on polyarteritis nodosa (PAN), and another on three forms of antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis (AAV): granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), microscopic polyangiitis (MPA), and eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA).

As with other ACR guidelines, these three were developed via the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology, which was used to rate the quality of the gathered evidence. For a recommendation to be published, it required 70% consensus or greater from the voting panel.

GCA and TAK Guideline

Regarding the management and treatment of GCA and TAK, the guideline offers 42 recommendations and three ungraded position statements. Due to the low quality of evidence – "reflecting the paucity of randomized clinical trials in these diseases," the authors noted – only one of the GCA recommendations and one of the TAK recommendations are strong; the rest are conditional.

For patients with GCA, the guideline strongly recommends long-term clinical monitoring over no clinical monitoring for anyone in apparent clinical remission. Other notable recommendations include favoring oral glucocorticoids (GCs) with tocilizumab (Actemra) over oral glucocorticoids alone in newly diagnosed GCA, adding a non-GC immunosuppressive agent to oral GCs for GCA patients with active extracranial large vessel involvement, and preferring temporary artery biopsy as their "diagnostic test of choice at this time."

Dr Robert Spiera

"The Europeans generally are more comfortable relying on temporal artery ultrasound," Robert F. Spiera, MD, director of the vasculitis and scleroderma program at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, said in an interview. "In this country, possibly in part due to less uniform expertise in performing these ultrasounds, we have not had as much success in terms of accuracy.

These ACR guidelines therefore recommended biopsy to establish the diagnosis in patients with cranial presentations, whereas in the EULAR guidelines, ultrasound was felt to be preferable to biopsy."

"While we have temporal artery ultrasound available in the United States, we just don't have the expertise at this point to perform or interpret that test like the European rheumatologists do," Chung agreed. "But I think we're all hopeful that experience with temporal artery ultrasound will improve in the future, so we can use that test instead of an invasive biopsy."

Spiera, who was not a coauthor on any of the guidelines, also highlighted the conditional recommendation of noninvasive vascular imaging of the large vessels in patients with newly diagnosed GCA.

"It is well recognized that a substantial portion of patients with GCA have unrecognized evidence of large vessel involvement, and patients with GCA in general are at higher risk of aneurysms later in the disease course," he said. "These guidelines suggest screening even patients with purely cranial presentations for large vessel involvement with imaging to possibly identify the patients at higher risk for those later complications.

"What they didn't offer were recommendations on how to follow up on that imaging," he added, "which is an important and as-yet-unanswered question."

For patients with TAK, the guideline again strongly recommends long-term clinical monitoring over no clinical monitoring for anyone in apparent clinical remission. Other conditional recommendations include choosing a non-GC immunosuppressive agent such as methotrexate or a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor over tocilizumab as initial therapy because "the efficacy of tocilizumab in TAK is not established at this time."

AAV Guideline

Regarding the management and treatment of GPA, MPA, and EGPA, the guideline offers 41 recommendations and 10 ungraded position statements. All recommendations were conditional, and many address GPA and MPA together because, as the authors noted, "pivotal trials have enrolled both groups and presented results for these diseases together."

One notable recommendation is their preference for rituximab over cyclophosphamide for remission induction and for rituximab over methotrexate or azathioprine for remission maintenance in patients with severe GPA or MPA. "I don't think this is a surprise to people, but I think it reaffirms where our current practice is moving," Chung said.

"The literature supports that in patients with relapsing disease, rituximab works better than cyclophosphamide for remission induction," Spiera said. "But in these guidelines, even in new disease, rituximab is suggested as the agent of choice to induce remission. I would say that that is reasonable, but you could make an argument that it's maybe beyond what the literature supports, particularly in patients with advanced renal insufficiency attributable to that initial vasculitis flare."

Other recommendations include being against routinely adding plasma exchange to remission induction therapy in GPA or MPA patients with active glomerulonephritis – although they added that it should be considered in patients at high risk of end-stage kidney disease – as well as preferring cyclophosphamide or rituximab over mepolizumab for remission induction in patients with severe EGPA.

"We, to the surprise of many, were more supportive for the use of rituximab in EGPA than others were expecting, given the limited evidence," Chung said. "One of the reasons for that is the wide experience we've had with rituximab in GPA and MPA, and our recognition that there is a population of patients with EGPA who are ANCA positive who do seem to benefit from rituximab therapy."

And although the voting panel strongly favored treatment with methotrexate or azathioprine over trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole for GPA patients in remission, they ultimately labeled the recommendation as conditional "due to the lack of sufficient high-quality evidence comparing the two treatments."

"There has been progress in terms of well-done clinical trials to inform our decision-making, particularly for ANCA-associated vasculitis, both in terms of how to induce and maintain remission," Spiera said. "Though the recommendations were conditional, I think there's very strong data to support many of them."

PAN Guideline

Regarding the management and treatment of PAN, the guideline offers 16 recommendations – all but one are conditional – and one ungraded position statement. Their strong recommendation was for treatment with TNF inhibitors over GCs in patients with clinical manifestations of deficiency of adenosine deaminase 2, which they asked doctors to consider "in the setting of a PAN-like syndrome with strokes." Other conditional recommendations include treating patients with newly diagnosed, severe PAN with cyclophosphamide and GCs, as well as the use of abdominal vascular imaging and/or a deep-skin biopsy to help establish a diagnosis.

According to the authors, a fourth guideline on treating and managing Kawasaki syndrome will be released in the coming weeks.

The guidelines were supported by the ACR and the Vasculitis Foundation. Several authors acknowledged potential conflicts of interest, including receiving speaking and consulting fees, research grants, and honoraria from various pharmaceutical companies. Spiera has received grant support or consulting fees from Roche-Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, Chemocentryx, Corbus, Formation Biologics, InflaRx, Kadmon, AstraZeneca, AbbVie, CSL Behring, Sanofi, and Janssen.

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

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