Systemic Immunomodulatory Treatments for Patients With Atopic Dermatitis: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-analysis

JAMA Dermatol. 2020 Jun 1;156(6):659-667. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.0796.


Importance: Most clinical trials assessing systemic immunomodulatory treatments for patients with atopic dermatitis are placebo-controlled.

Objective: To compare the effectiveness and safety of systemic immunomodulatory treatments for patients with atopic dermatitis in a systematic review and network meta-analysis.

Data sources: The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, Embase, Latin American and Caribbean Health Science Information database, Global Resource of Eczema Trials database, and clinical trial registries were searched from inception to October 28, 2019.

Study selection: English-language randomized clinical trials of 8 weeks or more of treatment with systemic immunomodulatory medications for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis were included. Titles, abstracts, and articles were screened in duplicate. Of 10 324 citations, 39 trials were included.

Data extraction and synthesis: Data were extracted in duplicate, and the review adhered to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses for Network Meta-Analyses guidelines. Random-effects bayesian network meta-analyses were performed and certainty of evidence was assessed using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation criteria.

Main outcomes and measures: Prespecified outcomes were change in signs of disease, symptoms, quality of life, itch, withdrawals, and serious adverse events.

Results: A total of 39 trials with 6360 patients examining 20 medications and placebo were included. Most trials were conducted for adults receiving up to 16 weeks of therapy. Dupilumab, 300 mg every 2 weeks, was associated with improvement in the Eczema Area and Severity Index score vs placebo (mean difference, 11.3-point reduction; 95% credible interval [CrI], 9.7-13.1 [high certainty]). Cyclosporine (standardized mean difference, -1.1; 95% CrI, -1.7 to -0.5 [low certainty]) and dupilumab (standardized mean difference, -0.9; 95% CrI, -1.0 to -0.8 [high certainty]) were similarly effective vs placebo in clearing clinical signs of atopic dermatitis and may be superior to methotrexate (standardized mean difference, -0.6; 95% CrI, -1.1 to 0.0 [low certainty]) and azathioprine (standardized mean difference, -0.4; 95% CrI, -0.8 to -0.1 [low certainty]). Several investigational medications for atopic dermatitis are promising, but data to date are limited to small early-phase trials. Safety analyses were limited by low event rates.

Conclusions and relevance: Dupilumab and cyclosporine may be more effective for up to 16 weeks of treatment than methotrexate and azathioprine for treating adult patients with atopic dermatitis. More studies directly comparing established and novel treatments beyond 16 weeks are needed and will be incorporated into future updates of this review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / adverse effects
  • Azathioprine / administration & dosage
  • Azathioprine / adverse effects
  • Cyclosporine / administration & dosage
  • Cyclosporine / adverse effects
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / complications
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Dermatologic Agents / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / administration & dosage*
  • Immunologic Factors / adverse effects
  • Methotrexate / administration & dosage
  • Methotrexate / adverse effects
  • Network Meta-Analysis
  • Pruritus / diagnosis
  • Pruritus / drug therapy*
  • Pruritus / immunology
  • Quality of Life
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors
  • dupilumab
  • Cyclosporine
  • Azathioprine
  • Methotrexate