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Tofacitinib: Big Cutaneous Sarcoidosis Response in Small Study

Researchers are reporting impressive results in a small, open-label trial of the JAK inhibitor tofacitinib in cutaneous sarcoidosis: 6 of 10 patients improved so much that they reached a disease activity level of zero, and all patients improved by an average of 83% via a scoring system.

Dr William Damsky

“Not only did patients get better, but they were in many cases able to come off their baseline immunosuppressive regimen, including prednisone and methotrexate. They’d get off prednisone entirely or, in some cases, decrease it substantially,” study investigator William Damsky, MD, PhD, reported at the American Academy of Dermatology Virtual Meeting Experience.

Sarcoidosis is a common disease that affects an estimated 1 in 25 Black women and is believed to contribute to the deaths of about 4,000 people in the United States each year, noted Damsky of the department of dermatology, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. One famous patient is comedian Bernie Mac, who died from the condition in 2008.

“Approximately one third of patients have cutaneous involvement,” Damsky said, and skin may be the only manifestation of the disease. There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved therapy for cutaneous sarcoidosis, he added. Prednisone, the first-line therapy in skin manifestations, is approved only for pulmonary sarcoidosis.

“Oftentimes, there’s an attempt to transition either partially or fully to other therapies, including methotrexate and TNF-alpha blockers. But there’s been mixed success in doing that,” he said. This is not always possible, “so a lot of patients end up on prednisone.”

Earlier, a team at Yale prescribed 5 mg tofacitinib (Xeljanz) for several patients with severe cutaneous sarcoidosis and saw impressive results, Damsky said, including a patient with pulmonary sarcoidosis that also improved. He noted that there are case reports in the medical literature with similar findings.

Those positive results inspired the new study. Researchers recruited 10 patients with cutaneous sarcoidosis (9 with internal organ involvement) with a Cutaneous Sarcoidosis Activity and Morphology Instrument (CSAMI) score of 10 or higher. Nine patients were in their 50s, one was aged 63 years, and five were men. Skin colors of the patients ranged from Fitzpatrick skin types I to VI, and all had been taking at least two medications, typically methotrexate and prednisone.

The patients received 5 mg of tofacitinib twice a day for 6 months. “Everyone got better during the study, and six patients had a complete response, which we defined as a CSAMI score of zero activity,” Damsky said. “It’s really quite remarkable to see that.” Overall, the patients saw an 83% improvement in CSAMI scores.

In regard to safety, “all patients completed the study,” he said. “Tofacitinib was well tolerated, and there were no serious adverse effects or events.”

Tofacitinib is approved for treating rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and polyarticular course juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

A month’s supply of twice-daily 5 mg tofacitinib pills would cost $4,900-$5,100 with free coupons, according to information accessed on April 24, 2021, on GoodRx.com. Generics are not available.

In an interview, Sotonye Imadojemu, MD, of the department of dermatology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, praised the study, and said “tofacitinib is a reasonable treatment for treatment-refractory or extensive cutaneous sarcoidosis,” although it will be helpful to get results from randomized-controlled trials.

She cautioned that the drug “is a powerful immunosuppressant, so the risk of infection must be discussed with patients before prescribing. Screening for chronic infections such as viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV should be completed prior to treatment initiation. Blood counts, liver function, and lipid panels should be regularly monitored. The vaccines necessary for those who are immunosuppressed should be administered as able, and age-appropriate cancer screening must be kept up to date.”

The study was funded by Pfizer, the Dermatology Foundation, and the Yale Department of Dermatology. Damsky disclosed research support (Pfizer), consulting fees (Eli Lilly, Pfizer, TWi Biotechnology), and licensing fees (EMD Millipore/MillporeSigma). Imadojemu has no disclosures.

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

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  • Posted on May 5, 2021