Tofacitinib Postmarketing Data Shed Light on JAK Inhibitor Risks

Additional analyses of a postmarketing trial that was required after the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib (Xeljanz, Xeljanz XR) has identified characteristics of older patients with rheumatoid arthritis with at least one cardiovascular risk factor who may be at higher risk for major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) when taking the drug.

Results from the phase 3b/4 ORAL Surveillance trial presented at the virtual annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology show that people taking tofacitinib for RA with at least one cardiovascular (CV) risk factor had a nonsignificant higher risk for MACE than did people taking tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi), with the risk from tofacitinib more pronounced in current smokers, aspirin users, people older than 65 years, and men, compared with women.

Dr Christina Charles-Schoeman

“It is the first large, randomized safety study of active RA patients with increased CV risk comparing tofacitinib to TNF inhibition,” study author Christina Charles-Schoeman, MD, said in an interview. “These data emphasize the importance of assessing baseline CV risk when treating patients with RA.” Charles-Schoeman is chief of rheumatology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The results shed further light on the trial’s findings, which the FDA used in September 2021 to mandate boxed warnings about the risk of MI or stroke, cancer, venous thromboembolism, and death, as well as updated indications, for tofacitinib and other JAK inhibitors baricitinib (Olumiant) and upadacitinib (Rinvoq). The FDA limited all approved uses of these three medications to patients who have not responded well to TNFi to ensure their benefits outweigh their risks.

Tofacitinib is indicated for RA, psoriatic arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and polyarticular course juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Baricitinib and upadacitinib are approved only for RA.

Dr Katherine Liao

While the overall results of the trial results show nonsignificant increased incidence rates for MACE in tofacitinib users versus TNFI users, Katherine Liao, MD, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, noted that more information is needed to determine who is at greatest risk. “Another thing to keep in mind is, while there was evidence of an elevated relative risk for MACE, compared to TNFi, the absolute risk, based on the numbers what we know so far, is small,” she said.

The trial compared two different doses of tofacitinib – 5 mg (1,455 patients) and 10 mg (n = 1,456) twice daily – and TNFi (n = 1,451) in people with moderate to severe RA over age 50. Patient characteristics were similar across all three treatment arms, Charles-Schoeman said. All patients had inadequate response to methotrexate, and about 57% in all three treatment groups were taking corticosteroids. The 10-mg tofacitinib patients switched to the 5-mg dose in February 2019 but represent the 10-mg group in the study analysis.

ORAL Surveillance demonstrated a 24% greater risk of MACE in the 5-mg tofacitinib patients and a 43% heightened risk the 10-mg group, compared with patients who received a TNFi.

The differentiating factor for MACE incidence was MI. The higher- and lower-dose tofacitinib groups had 69% and 80% greater risk for MI. While the risk for fatal MI were similar across all three treatment groups, the risk for nonfatal MI were more than doubled in the respective tofacitinib groups: hazard ratios of 2.32 and 2.08. The incidence of stroke was similar across all three arms, Charles-Schoeman said.

The study identified a number of baseline characteristics as independent overall risk factors for MACE across all treatment groups. Current smoking and aspirin use more than doubled the risk (HR, 2.18; P < .0001 and HR, 2.11; P = .004, respectively), while age greater than 65 years and male sex approached that level (HR, 1.81; P = .0011 and HR, 1.81; P = .0015) approached that level. Other factors that elevated the risk of MACE to a lesser extent were a history of diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery procedures, and a total cholesterol to HDL ratio greater than 4.

Other ORAL Surveillance Subanalyses and Tofacitinib Real-World Data Reported

This was one of several analyses presented at ACR 2021 that compared adverse event risks for tofacitinib versus TNFi drugs. A separate analysis of claims data from patients with RA in two U.S. insurance databases plus Medicare found a statistically nonsignificant increased risk of adverse CV outcomes (MI or stroke) with tofacitinib, compared with TNFi users, among patients who met the same inclusion and exclusion criteria of the ORAL Surveillance trial but not in a “real-world evidence” cohort of more than 102,000 patients with RA in routine care from the databases.

Two additional ORAL Surveillance analyses presented at ACR 2021 gave details about risk factors for higher rates of malignancies and venous thromboembolic events found in patients taking tofacitinib with at least one CV risk factor. As would be expected, older age (≥65 vs. 50-64 years) and current or past smoking (vs. never smoking) were independent risk factors for higher malignancy rates across all treatment arms. Pulmonary embolism events across treatment groups were independently associated with a history of venous thromboembolism, baseline use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, baseline body mass index of at least 30 kg/m2, age 65 or older, and history of hypertension.

The ORAL Surveillance findings are worth considering when determining treatments for RA patients with CV risk factors, Charles-Schoeman said. “Tofacitinib remains an effective RA treatment,” she said. “The choice of specific RA treatment for any patient remains an individual decision between the patient and physician, which is decided based on a number of different factors. This new study provides additional information regarding both tofacitinib as well as traditional CV risk factors for discussion with the patient.”

The ORAL Surveillance results may give rheumatologists reason to rethink use of tofacitinib in some patients with CV risk, said Liao of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Currently, we have limited data and are still awaiting a report of the full trial results,” she said in an interview. “Based on the data available, I can think of a few patients in my clinic where I would reconsider use of these drugs, i.e., history of heart attack with stable angina, especially if there are other options.” However, she noted that many patients on tofacitinib have already failed on older treatments.

Dr Brittany Weber

These data emphasize the importance of addressing CV risk with patients, said Brittany N. Weber, MD, PhD, an advanced cardiovascular fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who works with Liao. “It is also an opportunity to discuss modification of risk factors and to discuss primary prevention therapies, such as statin therapy, where appropriate,” she added. “Based on the individual’s cardiovascular risk, there may be a role for further risk stratification to further understand an individual’s risk, which can also inform primary prevention cardiovascular therapies and help guide these discussions.” Risk stratification could include cardiac CT for calcium scoring or cardiac coronary CT angiography for determining atherosclerotic burden.

The study was sponsored by Pfizer. Charles-Schoeman disclosed relationships with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, and Regeneron-Sanofi. Liao and Weber have no relevant disclosures.

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

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