A reduced dose of prednisolone plus rituximab was as effective as a conventionally high dose in treating patients with newly diagnosed antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)–associated vasculitis, according to a new Japanese study, along with significantly fewer adverse events as well.
“To our knowledge, this is the first trial in ANCA-associated vasculitis showing that a lower glucocorticoid dose may reduce serious adverse events,” wrote, of the department of allergy and clinical immunology at Chiba (Japan) University Hospital, and colleagues. The study was published June 1, 2021, in .
To determine the most effective and safe dose of glucocorticoids for treating this specific subset of patients with vasculitis, the researchers launched an open-label noninferiority clinical trial at 21 hospitals in Japan. A group of 140 patients with new-onset ANCA-associated vasculitis (AAV) without severe glomerulonephritis or alveolar hemorrhage were enrolled and split evenly into two treatment subgroups: reduced-dose prednisolone (0.5 mg/kg per day) plus four doses of rituximab (375 mg/m2 per week) or high-dose prednisolone (1 mg/kg per day) plus rituximab. The median age for all enrolled patients was 73, and approximately 58% were women.
Of the 140 original patients, 134 (95.7%) completed the trial. After 6 months, 49 participants in the reduced-dose group (71%) and 45 in the high-dose group (69.2%) achieved remission, as assessed via the Birmingham Vasculitis Activity Score. The difference between the two groups – 1.8 percentage points (one-sided 97.5% confidence interval, –13.7 to infinity) – met the prespecified margin of –20 percentage points for noninferiority (P = .003 for noninferiority). Relapse within 6 months occurred in three participants in the reduced-dose group and zero in the high-dose group, frequencies that the researchers identified as not statistically different (difference, 4.3%; 95% CI, –0.5% to 9.3%; P = .24).
Serious adverse events occurred less frequently in the reduced-dose group (21 events in 13 patients, 18.8%), compared with the high-dose group (41 events in 24 patients, 36.9%), as did serious infections in the reduced-dose group (7 events in 5 patients, 7.2%) versus the high-dose group (20 events in 13 patients, 20%). Two patients died in the reduced-dose group and three died in the high-dose group; those frequencies were noted as not statistically different (difference, –1.7%; 95% CI, –4.7% to 8.2%; P = .67). Causes of death included subarachnoid hemorrhage in a 58-year-old in the reduced-dose group, along with a case of sepsis in an 80-year-old and two gastrointestinal bleedings in a 75-year-old and an 85-year-old in the high-dose group.
End-stage kidney disease (ESKD) occurred in one patient in the high-dose group and none in the reduced-dose group. Cumulative survival rates at 6 months were not significantly different between the reduced-dose (97.1%) and the high-dose (95.3%) groups (95% CI, –4.7% to 8.2%; P = .58).
Less glucocorticoids makes sense for subset of patients with milder vasculitis
“We always worry about how much steroids we’re giving our patients,” said, an associate professor of rheumatology at Northwestern University, Chicago. “And it’s not a shock to find out that we can use less. That’s been the theme of many studies across vasculitities that have been coming out: ‘Maybe we are using too much steroids.’ It’s really important to have actual data supporting that, though, so clinicians can feel more confident and figure out what population it applies to.”
She added that, because the study focused on patients with milder disease, it’s no surprise that remission was achieved with a lesser dose.
“I see a lot of vasculitis patients, and this gives me more confidence in a subset of them – new ANCA vasculitis, MPO positive, not very severe disease – to get away with using less steroids up front,” she said.
To apply these findings more broadly across vasculitis patients, Dr. Dua stressed the need for a follow-up study, preferably a randomized, controlled trial, with an expanded population and a longer duration.
“There were 3 relapses in the low-dose group and zero in the high-dose group in the first 6 months,” she said. “I’d be interested to know when those happened and also, over time, whether the low-dose regiment up front impacts the rate of relapse in the long term.”
The authors acknowledged the study’s limitations, including the necessity of an open-label trial because of the inevitable visible effects of high-dose glucocorticoid on patients. They also addressed the potential subjectivity of the Birmingham Vasculitis Activity Score, though they added that “other endpoints, including death, ESKD, and serious adverse events, were objective.” Finally, they acknowledged that their study was nationwide but not international, with disease phenotypes that were typical of Japanese patients with AAV. That said, “previous studies have shown that treatment responses are similar between Japan and other countries,” they wrote.
The study was funded by an intramural competitive grant from Chiba University Hospital. The authors reported numerous potential conflicts of interest, including receiving grant support, lecture fees, and personal fees from various pharmaceutical companies.