A proof-of-concept study with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor nilotinib in spondyloarthritis

J Transl Med. 2016 Oct 27;14(1):308. doi: 10.1186/s12967-016-1050-2.


Background: To evaluate the immunomodulating and clinical effects of nilotinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, in a proof-of-concept study in spondyloarthritis (SpA) assessing the mast cell as potential novel therapeutic target in this disease.

Methods: Twenty eight patients with active peripheral (pSpA) and/or axial SpA (axSpA) were included in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial (Trial registration: Trialregister.nl NTR2834). Patients were treated 1:1 with nilotinib or placebo for 12 weeks, followed by an open label extension for another 12 weeks. Paired synovial tissue biopsies, serum sampling and assessment of clinical symptoms were performed serially.

Results: In pSpA (n = 13) synovial inflammation appeared to diminish after 12 weeks of nilotinib treatment as evidenced by histopathology (decrease in number of infiltrating CD68+ and CD163+ macrophages and mast cells). Compared to placebo mRNA expression of c-Kit as mast cell marker (p = 0.037) and of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 (p = 0.024) were reduced. The reduction of synovial inflammation was paralleled by a decrease in serum biomarkers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein (p = 0.024) and calprotectin (p = 0.055). Also clinical parameters such as patient's global assessment of disease activity (p = 0.031) and ankylosing spondylitis disease activity score (p = 0.031) showed improvement upon 12 weeks of nilotinib but not placebo treatment. This improvement was further augmented at week 24. In contrast to pSpA, neither serum biomarkers of inflammation nor clinical parameters improved upon nilotinib treatment in axSpA. During the trial one serious adverse event occurred, which was considered unrelated to the study drug.

Conclusions: This small proof-of-concept study suggests that nilotinib treatment modulates inflammation and clinical symptoms in pSpA. A similar effect was not seen in axSpA.

Trial registration: trialregister.nl registration code NTR2834 registered 31 March 2011.

Keywords: Mast cells; Nilotinib; Randomized controlled trial; Spondyloarthritis; Tyrosine kinase inhibitor.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation / drug effects
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Placebos
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrimidines / adverse effects
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Spondylarthritis / blood
  • Spondylarthritis / drug therapy*
  • Synovial Membrane / pathology


  • Biomarkers
  • Placebos
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrimidines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • nilotinib