Objective: The lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in pulmonary fibrosis in systemic sclerosis (SSc) has hampered an evidence-based approach to treatment. This RCT was undertaken to investigate the effects of intravenous (IV) cyclophosphamide (CYC) followed by azathioprine (AZA) treatment in pulmonary fibrosis in SSc.
Methods: Forty-five patients were randomized to receive low-dose prednisolone and 6 infusions (monthly) of CYC followed by oral AZA, or placebo. Primary outcome measures were change in percent predicted forced vital capacity (FVC) and change in single-breath diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO). Secondary outcome measures included changes in appearance on high-resolution computed tomography and dyspnea scores. An intent-to-treat statistical analysis was performed.
Results: At baseline, there were no significant group differences in factors linked to outcome, including severity of pulmonary fibrosis and autoantibody status. Sixty-two percent of the patients completed the first year of treatment. Withdrawals included 9 patients (6 from the placebo group) with significant decline in lung function, 2 with treatment side effects (both from the active treatment group), and 6 with non-trial-related comorbidity. No hemorrhagic cystitis or bone marrow suppression was observed. Estimation of the relative treatment effect (active treatment versus placebo) adjusted for baseline FVC and treatment center revealed a favorable outcome for FVC of 4.19%; this between-group difference showed a trend toward statistical significance (P = 0.08). No improvements in DLCO or secondary outcome measures were identified.
Conclusion: This trial did not demonstrate significant improvement in the primary or secondary end points in the active treatment group versus the group receiving placebo. However, for FVC there was a trend toward statistical significance between the 2 groups. This suggests that treatment of pulmonary fibrosis in SSc with low-dose prednisolone and IV CYC followed by AZA stabilizes lung function in a subset of patients with the disease. Therapy was well tolerated with no increase in serious adverse events.