First Drug Approved to Specifically Treat Giant Cell Arteritis

 

Giant cell arteritis is a form of vasculitis, a group of disorders that results in inflammation of blood vessels. This inflammation causes the arteries to narrow or become irregular, impeding adequate blood flow. In giant cell arteritis, the vessels most involved are those of the head, especially the temporal arteries (located on each side of the head). For this reason, the disorder is sometimes called temporal arteritis. However, other blood vessels, including large ones like the aorta, can become inflamed in giant cell arteritis. Standard treatment involves high doses of corticosteroids that are tapered over time.

 

The FDA has expanded the approved use of subcutaneous Actemra (tocilizumab) to treat adults with giant cell arteritis. This new indication provides the first FDA-approved therapy, specific to this type of vasculitis. The efficacy and safety of subcutaneous (injected under the skin) Actemra for giant cell arteritis were established in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 251 patients with giant cell arteritis. The primary efficacy endpoint was the proportion of patients achieving sustained remission from Week 12 through Week 52. Sustained remission was defined as the absence of symptoms of giant cell arteritis, normalization of inflammatory laboratory tests, and tapering the use of prednisone (a steroid drug). Results showed a greater proportion of patients receiving subcutaneous Actemra with standardized prednisone regimens achieved sustained remission from Week 12 through Week 52, as compared to patients receiving placebo with standardized prednisone regimens. The cumulative prednisone dose was also lower in treated patients with Actemra relative to placebo.

 

The overall safety profile observed in the Actemra treatment groups was generally consistent with the known safety profile of Actemra. Actemra carries a Boxed Warning for serious infections. Patients treated with Actemra who develop a serious infection should stop that treatment until the infection is controlled. Live vaccines should be avoided during treatment with Actemra. Actemra should be used with caution in patients at increased risk of gastrointestinal perforation. Hypersensitivity reactions, including anaphylaxis and death, have occurred. Laboratory monitoring is recommended due to potential consequences of treatment-related changes in neutrophils (type of white blood cell), platelets, lipids and liver function tests.

 

Subcutaneous Actemra was previously approved for the treatment of moderate to severely active rheumatoid arthritis. Intravenous Actemra was also previously approved for the treatment of moderate to severely active rheumatoid arthritis, systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis and polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Intravenous administration is not approved for giant cell arteritis.

 

The FDA granted this application a Breakthrough Therapy designation and a Priority Review. Actemra is sold by Hoffman La Roche, Inc.

 

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