Around two-thirds of patients with severe or refractory sarcoidosis show a significant clinical response to tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonists, according to findings from a retrospective, multicenter cohort study.

Biologic agents targeting TNF, such as etanercept, infliximab, and adalimumab, have been introduced as a third-line option for patients with disease that is refractory to other treatments. However, Yvan Jamilloux, MD, of the Hospices Civils de Lyon (France) and his coauthors reported that there are still insufficient data available on efficacy and safety of these drugs in the context of sarcoidosis.

Dr. Jamilloux and his colleagues analyzed data from 132 sarcoidosis patients who received TNF antagonists, 122 (92%) of whom had severe sarcoidosis (Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2017 Mar 8. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2017.03.005 ).

Overall, 64% of patients showed clinical improvements in response to TNF antagonists; 18% had a complete response, and 46% had a partial response. However, 33 (25%) patients showed no change, and 14 (11%) had continued disease progression despite treatment with TNF antagonists. In another 16 patients who received a second TNF antagonist, 10 (63%) had a complete or partial clinical response. The investigators could find no differences in response between anti-TNF agents or between monotherapy and a combination with an immunosuppressant.

Pulmonary involvement was associated with a significantly lower clinical response, but none of the other factors examined in a multivariate analysis (sex, age, ethnicity, organ involvement, disease duration, steroid dosage, or prior immunosuppressant use) distinguished responders and nonresponders.

The authors noted that these response rates were lower than those seen in the literature and suggested this may be attributable to the multicenter design, more patients with longer-lasting and more refractory disease, and longer times under biologic therapy (median 12 months).

The researchers reported significant improvements in central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, heart, skin, and upper respiratory tract involvements based on declines in Extrapulmonary Physician Organ Severity Tool (ePOST) scores. There were also improvements in the eye, muscle, and lung, but these were not statistically significant.

TNF-antagonist therapy was associated with a high rate of adverse events. Around half of all patients (52%) experienced adverse events, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, bacterial sepsis, and herpes zoster. In 31 patients (23%), these led to treatment cessation.

Nine patients also had severe allergic reactions, four had paradoxical granulomatous reactions, three developed neutralizing antibodies against anti-TNF agents, two patients had demyelinating lesions, and one had a serum sickness-like reaction. All of these events led to discontinuation.

Overall, 128 (97%) of the patients in the study had received corticosteroids as first-line therapy, and 125 (95%) had received at least one second-line immunosuppressive drug over a median duration of 16 months. Most were treated with infliximab (91%) as the first-line TNF antagonist, followed by adalimumab (6%), etanercept (2%), and certolizumab pegol (1%).

Treatment with TNF antagonists was associated with significant reductions in corticosteroid use; the mean daily prednisone dose decreased from 23 mg/day to 11 mg/day over the median 20.5-month follow-up. This was seen even in the 33 patients who showed no change in their disease course after TNF-antagonist therapy.

No conflicts of interest were declared.