Background: Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most severe subtype of JIA; treatment options are limited. Interleukin-6 plays a pathogenic role in systemic JIA.
Methods: We randomly assigned 112 children, 2 to 17 years of age, with active systemic JIA (duration of ≥6 months and inadequate responses to nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and glucocorticoids) to the anti-interleukin-6 receptor antibody tocilizumab (at a dose of 8 mg per kilogram of body weight if the weight was ≥30 kg or 12 mg per kilogram if the weight was <30 kg) or placebo given intravenously every 2 weeks during the 12-week, double-blind phase. Patients meeting the predefined criteria for nonresponse were offered open-label tocilizumab. All patients could enter an open-label extension.
Results: At week 12, the primary end point (an absence of fever and an improvement of 30% or more on at least three of the six variables in the American College of Rheumatology [ACR] core set for JIA, with no more than one variable worsening by more than 30%) was met in significantly more patients in the tocilizumab group than in the placebo group (64 of 75 [85%] vs. 9 of 37 [24%], P<0.001). At week 52, 80% of the patients who received tocilizumab had at least 70% improvement with no fever, including 59% who had 90% improvement; in addition, 48% of the patients had no joints with active arthritis, and 52% had discontinued oral glucocorticoids. In the double-blind phase, 159 adverse events, including 60 infections (2 serious), occurred in the tocilizumab group, as compared with 38, including 15 infections, in the placebo group. In the double-blind and extension periods combined, 39 serious adverse events (0.25 per patient-year), including 18 serious infections (0.11 per patient-year), occurred in patients who received tocilizumab. Neutropenia developed in 19 patients (17 patients with grade 3 and 2 patients with grade 4), and 21 had aminotransferase levels that were more than 2.5 times the upper limit of the normal range.
Conclusions: Tocilizumab was efficacious in severe, persistent systemic JIA. Adverse events were common and included infection, neutropenia, and increased aminotransferase levels. (Funded by Hoffmann-La Roche; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00642460.).