Background: Long-term drug treatment of schizophrenia with typical antipsychotics has limitations: 25 to 33% of patients have illnesses that are treatment-resistant. Clozapine is an antipsychotic drug, which is claimed to have superior efficacy and to cause fewer motor adverse effects than typical drugs for people with treatment-resistant illnesses. Clozapine carries a significant risk of serious blood disorders, which necessitates mandatory weekly blood monitoring at least during the first months of treatment.
Objectives: To evaluate the effects of clozapine compared with typical antipsychotic drugs in people with schizophrenia.
Search strategy: For the current update of this review (March 2006) we searched the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group Trials Register.
Selection criteria: All relevant randomised clinical trials (RCTs).
Data collection and analysis: We extracted data independently. For dichotomous data we calculated relative risks (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) on an intention-to-treat basis, based on a fixed-effect model. We calculated numbers needed to treat/harm (NNT/NNH) where appropriate. For continuous data, we calculated weighted mean differences (WMD) again based on a fixed-effect model.
Main results: We have included 42 trials (3950 participants) in this review. Twenty-eight of the included studies are less than 13 weeks in duration, and, overall, trials were at significant risk of bias. We found no significant difference in the effects of clozapine and typical neuroleptic drugs for broad outcomes such as mortality, ability to work or suitability for discharge at the end of the study. Clinical improvements were seen more frequently in those taking clozapine (n=1119, 14 RCTs, RR 0.72 CI 0.7 to 0.8, NNT 6 CI 5 to 8). Also, participants given clozapine had fewer relapses than those on typical antipsychotic drugs (n=1303, RR 0.62 CI 0.5 to 0.8, NNT 21 CI 15 to 49). BPRS scores showed a greater reduction of symptoms in clozapine-treated patients, (n=1145, 16 RCTs, WMD -4.22 CI -5.4 to -3.1), although the data were heterogeneous (Chi(2) 0.0001, I(2) 66%). Short-term data from the SANS negative symptom scores favoured clozapine (n=196, 5 RCTs, WMD -5.92 CI -7.8 to -4.1). We found clozapine to be more acceptable in long-term treatment than conventional antipsychotic drugs (n=982, 16 RCTs, RR 0.60 CI 0.5 to 0.7, NNT 15 CI 12 to 20). Blood problems occurred more frequently in participants receiving clozapine (3.2%) compared with those given typical antipsychotics (0%) (n=1031, 13 RCTs, RR 7.09 CI 2.0 to 25.6). Clozapine participants experienced more drowsiness, hypersalivation, or temperature increase, than those given conventional neuroleptics. However, clozapine patients experienced fewer motor adverse effects (n=1433, 18 RCTs, RR 0.58 CI 0.5 to 0.7, NNT 5 CI 4 to 6).The clinical effects of clozapine were more pronounced in participants resistant to typical neuroleptics in terms of clinical improvement (n=370, 4 RCTs, RR 0.71 CI 0.6 to 0.8, NNT 4 CI 3 to 6) and symptom reduction. Thirty-four per cent of treatment-resistant participants had a clinical improvement with clozapine treatment.
Authors' conclusions: Clozapine may be more effective in reducing symptoms of schizophrenia, producing clinically meaningful improvements and postponing relapse, than typical antipsychotic drugs - but data are weak and prone to bias. Participants were more satisfied with clozapine treatment than with typical neuroleptic treatment. The clinical effect of clozapine, however, is, at least in the short term, not reflected in measures of global functioning such as ability to leave the hospital and maintain an occupation. The short-term benefits of clozapine have to be weighed against the risk of adverse effects. Within the context of trials, the potentially dangerous white blood cell decline seems to be more frequent in children and adolescents and in the elderly than in young adults or people of middle-age.The existing trials have largely neglected to assess the views of participants and their families on clozapine. More community-based long-term randomised trials are needed to evaluate the efficacy of clozapine on global and social functioning as trials in special groups such as people with learning disabilities.