In a real-world test, tofacitinib had a similar safety profile to what was seen in clinical trials. The majority of adverse events seen were infections, and few were serious; however, the study did find evidence of rare venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients with preexisting risk factors, which suggests that precaution is warranted in this group.
Tofacitinib, a Janus kinase inhibitor, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for adults with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis (UC). Three phase 3 clinical trials and an open-label, long-term extension trial found that the drug was associated with increased infection rates and higher lipid levels.
In rheumatoid arthritis patients, an interim analysis of a safety clinical trial of twice-daily doses of 10 mg tofacitinib showed increased rates of pulmonary embolism and all-cause mortality, compared to treatment with a dose of 5 mg or a tumor necrosis factor antagonist. That finding led to a black box label warning against thrombosis.
The current study, published in, included patients from six centers in the United States.
The findings suggest that patients should be counseled about the potential risk for herpes zoster (HZ) reactivation, especially older patients taking corticosteroids. The authors also recommended vaccination with an inactivated HZ vaccine. “Our data suggest a careful risk-benefit discussion before starting tofacitinib, especially in patients with preexisting risk factors for VTE, dose deescalation to the lowest clinically feasible dose, and monitoring for clinical signs of VTE, especially among those who continue on a dose of 10 mg twice a day,” the authors wrote.
The researchers followed 260 patients over a median of 6 months (median age, 38 years; 58.1% male; 71.9% non-Hispanic). Overall, 88.5% had previously received treatment with a biologic, most often an anti–TNF-alpha agent (76.5%). During follow-up, 15.7% experienced adverse events, most commonly infections (5.0%) and rash (3.5%). Joint pain (1.5%) and anemia (1.5%) also occurred. The incidence rate for any adverse event was 27.2 per 100 person-years. Adverse events occurred more often in older patients (mean age, 42 vs. 37 years; P = .02) and those who had not undergone previous anti-TNF therapy (63.4% vs 79.8%; P = .03). There was no association between concomitant steroid use and adverse events on univariate analysis. Of the overall cohort, 5.8% experienced a severe adverse event, with the most common being herpes zoster rash (26.7% of severe adverse events). Therapy was discontinued by 4.6%.
Five patients developed herpes zoster (3.29 per 100 person-years; 95% CI, 1.37-7.90). Risk factors for VTE were seen in 31.2% of the cohort, and two cases of VTE occurred during follow-up (1.32 per 100 person-years; 95% CI, 0.33-5.28), both in patients with extensive UC. There was no increased risk of complications following abdominal surgery.
At baseline, 38.4% had an abnormal lipid profile, and this increased to 48.3% following 8 weeks of treatment.
Overall, 45% of patients were anemic at baseline. Females experienced a significant improvement by week 26 (median hemoglobin level, 13.0 g/dL; interquartile range, 12.5-13.8), while a similar improvement occurred by week 52 in males (median hemoglobin level, 13.6 g/dL; IQR, 12.57-14.0). At 52 weeks, the mean increase in hemoglobin was 5% (IQR, 0%-11.1%). The increase was greater in females (7.7%; IQR, 4.2%-11.7%) than in males (2.1%; IQR, –0.5% to 11.3%).
Limitations of the study include its retrospective nature and that the tools by which data were collected could have missed some adverse events because they were not adequately captured in the treating clinician’s notes. However, the data trend similarly to a prospective.
“In summary, we report safety signals on a real-world cohort of patients with UC initiated on tofacitinib in whom increasing age is a risk factor for AEs and consistent with recent reports of a dose-dependent risk of HZ reactivation and VTE events in patients with a risk factor for VTE on the 10-mg twice-daily dosing,” the authors concluded.
The study was funded by the American College of Gastroenterology, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the Givin’ it all for Guts Foundation, and the Lawrence C. Pakula, MD, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research Innovation and Education Fund. The authors have financial ties with various pharmaceutical companies.
This article was updated July 19, 2021.