COVID-19 Outcomes in Atopic Dermatitis Patients: Registry Data Reported

Doug Brunk

March 30, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

BOSTON – Among atopic dermatitis (AD) patients infected with COVID-19, those who received topical treatments were nearly five times more likely to be hospitalized compared with those on dupilumab monotherapy, results from a global registry demonstrated.

Moreover, combination systemic treatment, especially those that included systemic corticosteroids, was associated with the highest risk of COVID-19–related hospitalization.

"Patients with inflammatory skin diseases such as AD may be at higher risk of COVID-19," Annelie H. Musters, MD, said during a late-breaking abstract session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. "Another factor to consider is that AD patients are often treated with systemic immunomodulatory therapy, including systemic corticosteroids and nonsteroidal immunosuppressants such as methotrexate, cyclosporin, biologics, and Janus kinase inhibitors. Different mechanisms of action and levels of immunosuppression may impart variable risks of serious infections."

On the other hand, some degree of immunomodulation may have beneficial effects on the course of COVID-19 in AD patients, said Musters, of the department of dermatology at Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam. Targeting of specific immune pathways could reduce the development of a hyperinflammatory state in severe COVID-19. Dual blockade of interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-13 with dupilumab may have a protective effect in the context of COVID-19 infection, because expression of Th2 cytokines, including IL-4 and IL-13, may be increased during COVID-19.

"At the start of the pandemic, many of us were faced with important questions, like do systemic immunomodulatory treatments influence outcomes of COVID-19 in patients with AD?" she said. "Do patients on dupilumab or other novel systemics fare better than those on conventional systemic treatment?"

To answer these questions, she and her colleagues launched a web-based registry in April 2020 to investigate COVID-19 outcomes in patients with AD treated with or without systemic immunomodulatory treatments. For the registry, known as Surveillance Epidemiology of Coronavirus Under Research Exclusion for Atopic Dermatitis (SECURE-AD), clinicians in 27 countries used a web-based form to enter anonymized data after patients had fully recovered from COVID-19. Eligibility criteria included having proven or highly suspected COVID-19, and there were no restrictions on age nor the type of AD treatment they were receiving.

Musters reported results from 442 patients who were recruited between April 2, 2020, and Oct. 31, 2021. Their mean age was 35.6 years, their median body mass index was 23.7 kg/m2, and there was an even sex distribution. Most patients were White and were recruited from Italy. Of the 442 patients, 216 (48.8%) received dupilumab monotherapy, 131 (29.6%) received topical treatments, and 14 (3.16%) received combination systemic treatments, including systemic corticosteroids. About 12% presented to the emergency department and 6% were hospitalized. Of those hospitalized, 2% required intensive care and/or ventilation, and no deaths have occurred in the registry to date.

By treatment group, hospitalization rates were highest among those on combination treatments (35.7%), followed by systemic corticosteroids (14.3%), topical treatments only (9.9%), other conventional systemics (3.6%), methotrexate (3.3%), and dupilumab (2.3%).

To further explore the differences between hospitalization rates in treatment groups, the researchers performed a multivariable logistic regression analysis, adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, and comorbidity score. Compared with those who received dupilumab, the adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for hospitalization were highest among those who received topical treatments (OR, 4.95), followed by those who received systemic corticosteroids (OR, 2.81), and those who received other conventional systemic treatments (OR, 2.36).

Musters and colleagues also found that compared with patients on nonsteroidal immunosuppressive therapy, patients on combination systemic therapy had a significantly higher odds of hospitalization, specifically an OR of 45.75 for those on combination treatment including corticosteroids, an OR of 37.57 for those on combination treatment not including steroids, and an OR of 1.87 for those on systemic corticosteroids as monotherapy.

"Overall, the risk of COVID-19 complications appears to be low in patients with AD, even when treated with systemic immunomodulatory agents," Musters concluded. "Dupilumab monotherapy was associated with lower odds of hospitalizations compared with other therapies. Moreover, combination systemic treatment, especially combinations including systemic corticosteroids, was associated with the highest risk of severe COVID-19."

She added that other population-based study designs are more suitable to answer other important questions, such as whether the overall risk of COVID-19 in patients with AD is higher or lower compared to healthy controls.

Amy S. Paller, MD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Northwestern University, Chicago, who was asked to comment on the study, characterized the results as reassuring. In this patient population, "we expected that dupilumab would not cause any problems," she said. "We wouldn't necessarily expect it to [confer] a benefit, but I think it's because the patients who need a systemic medication are going on something that's very targeted (dupilumab) rather than something that has a broader immunosuppressing function. It was interesting but not surprising that those on systemic steroids had more of a problem. Get them on something that's very targeted if you can and don't suppress the immune systems that might be handling COVID-19."

Musters reported having no disclosures. Paller disclosed that she is consultant to and/or an investigator for many pharmaceutical companies.

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