If apremilast (Otezla) works initially for psoriasis, it’s likely to keep on helping for at least a year, according to phase III results published by the drug’s maker, Celgene, in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The trial randomized 562 patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis to apremilast 30 mg twice daily, and 282 to placebo (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015 Jul;73[1]:37-49).

At week 16, 33% of apremilast patients, but only 5.3% of placebo patients, achieved a 75% or greater reduction from their baseline Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI-75) scores (P less than .0001).

The placebo group was next switched to apremilast so that all the subjects were on the drug from weeks 16 to 32. By week 32, patients switched from placebo caught up with their apremilast peers on PASI-75 response rates and improved pruritus scores.

The study continued past week 32 with 154 patients who had been on apremilast since baseline and had reached PASI-75; half were rerandomized to placebo, half to the drug. At week 52, 47 (61%) of apremilast patients had maintained their PASI-75 response, versus 9 (12%) of placebo patients.

“PASI response was maintained over 52 weeks with continued apremilast treatment. In addition, apremilast demonstrated improvements in nail and scalp psoriasis, both difficult-to-treat forms of psoriasis. Most patients rerandomized to placebo who lost PASI-75 response regained it after apremilast reinitiation,” said the authors, led by Dr. Kim Papp of Probity Medical Research in Waterloo, Ont.

Apremilast, an oral phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitor, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014 for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The 16-week results are included in the drug’s label .

The label warns of weight loss and depression with apremilast. The new report doesn’t mention depression but does note a mean weight loss of 2.08 kg with the drug, and that 19% of patients lost more than 5% of their body weight. However, no one left the study because of it.

During the first 16 weeks of the trial, the most common side effects were diarrhea (7.1% placebo versus 19% apremilast); nausea (6.7% placebo versus 16% apremilast); upper respiratory tract infection (7.4% versus 10%); nasopharyngitis (8.2% versus 7.3%); and tension headache (4.3% versus 7.3%).

Side effects tended to present early with apremilast, and the incidence didn’t increase as treatment continued. To minimize side effects, the investigators titrated the drug in 10-mg increments over the first week of treatment. Discontinuations due to side effects were low.

Serious adverse events occurred in 2.8% of placebo and 2.1% of apremilast subjects. In the apremilast group, they included three cases of coronary artery disease and three cases of nephrolithiasis, plus two cases each of urinary tract infections, acute myocardial infarctions, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The investigators excluded patients with major uncontrolled comorbidities, significant infections, active or incompletely treated tuberculosis, biologic use within 12-24 months, use of active topical agents within 2 weeks, and prolonged sun or ultraviolet exposure. Most of the subjects were white, two-thirds were men, and the average age in the study was 45 years. Weak or low-potency topical corticosteroids, coal tar shampoo and salicylic acid for scalp lesions, and unmedicated moisturizers were allowed in the study.

Celgene Corporation, the maker of apremilast, funded the work. Three investigators are employees, and most of the rest reported financial relationships with the company.


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