From the Journals

Better COVID-19 outcomes confirmed in TNF inhibitor users


Caution needed in interpreting uncontrolled, registry-based data

The findings were not surprising to Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, medical director of the Digestive Health Center at Northwestern University, Chicago, who was not involved in the research.

Dr. Stephen B. Hanauer of Northwestern University, Chicago Northwestern University

Dr. Stephen B. Hanauer

“We’ve been monitoring IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] patients through the Secure registry similar to the rheumatologic and dermatologic societies and have not identified a signal of harm from any international groups,” Dr. Hanauer told this news organization. He noted that these registries also have not shown an increased risk for COVID-19 complications among patients receiving TNF inhibitors, antiadhesion therapies, or anti–IL12/23 inhibitors, compared with the general population not taking these therapies.

The study’s size and the diversity of patients strengthen its findings. However, the registries’ use of convenience sampling increases the potential for reporting bias, although the results remained similar after a sensitivity analysis. The study also lacked a control group, and the registries did not collect data uniformly.

“These are databases that rely on reporting from investigators and are not comprehensive prospective studies,” Dr. Hanauer noted as another study limitation.

Dr. Gelfand similarly advised caution in interpreting these findings, inasmuch as the study is a “collection of spontaneous reports” that should be viewed as hypothesis-generating rather than testing.

“Fortunately, more rigorous studies have been conducted, typically in large medical record systems, and have confirmed the hypothesis that TNF inhibitors are associated with a lower risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes, compared to other treatments,” Dr. Gelfand said.

Previous smaller studies similarly found better outcomes among patients taking TNF inhibitors, compared with other therapies, but their participants were predominantly from North America and Europe, noted Licio A. Velloso, MD, PhD, of the University of Campinas, in São Paulo, in an accompanying commentary.

On the basis of the findings of this study, “which included a much larger sample comprising distinct diseases and patients with a multitude of genetic backgrounds, the evidence in favor of the continued use of TNF inhibitor monotherapy for patients with IMIDs during the COVID-19 pandemic has become more substantial,” Dr. Velloso writes. “The finding that maintenance of TNF inhibitor monotherapy is associated with reductions in the risk of severe COVID-19 among patients with IMIDs offers new perspective that may guide health care professionals in the difficult decisions regarding therapeutic approaches among this specific group of patients.”

The research was funded by the American College of Rheumatology, the European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Center, and the Psoriasis Association. Many authors reported receiving grants and/or personal fees from a variety of pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Velloso has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Hanauer has served as a consultant to companies that market TNF inhibitors. Dr. Gelfand has consulted for and received research grants from companies that market TNF inhibitors.

A version of this article first appeared on


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