Interferon Inhibition for Lupus with Anifrolumab: Critical Appraisal of the Evidence Leading to FDA Approval

ACR Open Rheumatol. 2022 Jun;4(6):486-491. doi: 10.1002/acr2.11414. Epub 2022 Feb 14.


Furie R, Khamashta M, Merrill JT, Werth VP, Kalunian K, Brohawn P, et al. Anifrolumab, an anti-interferon-α receptor monoclonal antibody, in moderate-to-severe systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis Rheumatol 2017;69:376-86. Objective To assess the efficacy and safety of anifrolumab, a type I interferon (IFN) receptor antagonist, in a phase IIb, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of adults with moderate-to-severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Methods Patients (n = 305) were randomized to receive intravenous anifrolumab (300 mg or 1,000 mg) or placebo, in addition to standard therapy, every 4 weeks for 48 weeks. Randomization was stratified by SLE Disease Activity Index 2000 score (<10 or ≥10), oral corticosteroid dosage (<10 or ≥10 mg/day), and type I IFN gene signature test status (high or low) based on a 4-gene expression assay. The primary end point was the percentage of patients achieving an SLE Responder Index (SRI [4]) response at week 24 with sustained reduction of oral corticosteroids (<10 mg/day and less than or equal to the dose at week 1 from week 12 through 24). Other end points (including SRI [4], British Isles Lupus Assessment Group [BILAG]-based Composite Lupus Assessment [BICLA], modified SRI [6], and major clinical response) were assessed at week 52. The primary end point was analyzed in the modified intent-to-treat (ITT) population and type I IFN-high subpopulation. The study result was considered positive if the primary end point was met in either of the 2 study populations. The Type I error rate was controlled at 0.10 (2-sided), within each of the 2 study populations for the primary end point analysis. Results The primary end point was met by more patients treated with anifrolumab (34.3% of 99 for 300 mg and 28.8% of 104 for 1,000 mg) than placebo (17.6% of 102) (P = 0.014 for 300 mg and P = 0.063 for 1,000 mg, versus placebo), with greater effect size in patients with a high IFN signature at baseline (13.2% in placebo-treated patients versus 36.0% [P = 0.004] and 28.2% [P = 0.029]) in patients treated with anifrolumab 300 mg and 1,000 mg, respectively. At week 52, patients treated with anifrolumab achieved greater responses in SRI(4) (40.2% versus 62.6% [P < 0.001] and 53.8% [P = 0.043] with placebo, anifrolumab 300 mg, and anifrolumab 1,000 mg, respectively), BICLA (25.7% versus 53.5% [P < 0.001] and 41.2% [P = 0.018], respectively), modified SRI(6) (28.4% versus 49.5% [P = 0.002] and 44.7% [P = 0.015], respectively), major clinical response (BILAG 2004 C or better in all organ domains from week 24 through week 52) (6.9% versus 19.2% [P = 0.012] and 17.3% [P = 0.025], respectively), and several other global and organ-specific end points. Herpes zoster was more frequent in the anifrolumab-treated patients (2.0% with placebo treatment versus 5.1% and 9.5% with anifrolumab 300 mg and 1,000 mg, respectively), as were cases reported as influenza (2.0% versus 6.1% and 7.6%, respectively), in the anifrolumab treatment groups. Incidence of serious adverse events was similar between groups (18.8% versus 16.2% and 17.1%, respectively). Conclusion Anifrolumab substantially reduced disease activity compared with placebo across multiple clinical end points in the patients with moderate-to-severe SLE. Furie RA, Morand EF, Bruce IN, Manzi S, Kalunian KC, Vital EM, et al. Type I interferon inhibitor anifrolumab in active systemic lupus erythematosus (TULIP-1): a randomised, controlled, phase 3 trial. Lancet Rheumatol 2019;1:E208-19. Background Type I interferons are involved in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) pathogenesis. In a phase 2 trial, anifrolumab, a human monoclonal antibody to type I interferon receptor subunit 1, suppressed interferon gene signatures and substantially reduced SLE disease activity. Here, we sought to confirm the efficacy of anifrolumab versus placebo in a phase 3 trial of adult patients with SLE and moderate-to-severe disease activity despite standard-of-care treatment. Methods TULIP-1 was a double-blind, randomised, controlled, phase 3 trial done at 123 sites in 18 countries. Included patients were aged 18-70 years, with moderate-to-severe SLE, and ongoing stable treatment with either prednisone or equivalent, an antimalarial, azathioprine, mizoribine, mycophenolate mofetil or mycophenolic acid, or methotrexate. Patients were randomly assigned (2:1:2) to receive placebo, anifrolumab 150 mg, or anifrolumab 300 mg intravenously every 4 weeks for 48 weeks. Stable standard-of-care treatment continued except for mandatory attempts at oral corticosteroid tapering for patients receiving prednisone or equivalent of 10 mg/day or more at baseline. The primary outcome was the difference between the proportion of patients who achieved an SLE responder index-4 (SRI-4) response at week 52 with anifrolumab 300 mg versus with placebo. Key secondary outcomes were the difference between the anifrolumab 300 mg group and the placebo group in: proportion of patients in the interferon gene signature test-high subgroup who achieved SRI-4 at week 52; proportion of patients on 10 mg/day or more corticosteroids at baseline who achieved a sustained dose reduction to 7·5 mg/day or less from week 40 to 52; proportion of patients with a cutaneous lupus erythematosus disease area and severity index (CLASI) activity score of 10 or higher at baseline who achieved a 50% or more reduction in CLASI score by week 12; proportion of patients who achieved SRI-4 at week 24; and annualised flare rate through week 52. Other measures of disease activity were also assessed at week 52, including the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group-based composite lupus assessment (BICLA). Safety was also assessed. Efficacy and safety analyses were done in the population of patients who received at least one dose of study drug. This trial was registered at (NCT02446912). Findings Between June 9, 2015, and June 16, 2017, 457 patients were randomly assigned to the anifrolumab 300 mg group (n = 180), the anifrolumab 150 mg group (n = 93), or the placebo group (n = 184). The proportion of patients at week 52 with an SRI-4 response was similar between anifrolumab 300 mg (65 [36%] of 180) and placebo (74 [40%] of 184; difference - 4·2 [95% CI -14·2 to 5·8], p = 0·41). Similarly, proportions of patients with an SRI-4 response at week 24, and at week 52 in patients in the interferon gene signature test-high subgroup, did not differ between the anifrolumab and placebo groups. In patients with baseline oral corticosteroids of at least 10 mg/day, sustained dose reduction to 7·5 mg/day or less was achieved by 42 (41%) of 103 patients in the anifrolumab 300 mg group and 33 (32%) of 102 patients in the placebo group (difference 8·9 [95% CI -4·1 to 21·9]). In patients with CLASI activity score of at least 10 at baseline, at least 50% reduction by week 12 was achieved by 24 (42%) of 58 patients in the anifrolumab 300 mg group and 14 (25%) of 54 in the placebo group (difference 17·0 [95% CI -0·3 to 34·3]). Annualised flare rates were 0·60 for anifrolumab and 0·72 for placebo (rate ratio 0·83 [95% CI 0·60 to 1·14]). BICLA response was achieved by 67 (37%) of 180 patients receiving anifrolumab 300 mg versus 49 (27%) of 184 receiving placebo (difference 10·1 [95% CI 0·6 to 19·7]). Anifrolumab's safety profile was similar to that observed in phase 2, with similar proportions of patients having a serious adverse event between groups (25 [14%] of 180 for anifrolumab 300 mg, ten [11%] of 93 for anifrolumab 150 mg, and 30 [16%] of 184 for placebo). Interpretation The primary endpoint was not reached. However, several secondary endpoints, including reduction in oral corticosteroid dose, CLASI responses, and BICLA responses, suggest clinical benefit of anifrolumab compared with placebo. Conclusive evidence for the efficacy of anifrolumab awaits further phase 3 trial data. Despite the inherent limitations of a 1-year phase 3 study, such as incomplete knowledge of applicability to the general population and scarce detection of rare safety signals, in addition to complications from prespecified restricted medication rules, our results suggest that anifrolumab might have the potential to provide a treatment option for patients who have active SLE while receiving standard therapy. Funding AstraZeneca. Morand EF, Furie R, Tanaka Y, Bruce IN, Askanase AD, Richez C, et al. Trial of anifrolumab in active systemic lupus erythematosus. N Engl J Med 2020;382:211-21. Background Anifrolumab, a human monoclonal antibody to type I interferon receptor subunit 1 investigated for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), did not have a significant effect on the primary end point in a previous phase 3 trial. The current phase 3 trial used a secondary end point from that trial as the primary end point. Methods We randomly assigned patients in a 1:1 ratio to receive intravenous anifrolumab (300 mg) or placebo every 4 weeks for 48 weeks. The primary end point of this trial was a response at week 52 defined with the use of the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG)-based Composite Lupus Assessment (BICLA). A BICLA response requires reduction in any moderate-to-severe baseline disease activity and no worsening in any of nine organ systems in the BILAG index, no worsening on the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index, no increase of 0.3 points or more in the score on the Physician Global Assessment of disease activity (on a scale from 0 [no disease activity] to 3 [severe disease]), no discontinuation of the trial intervention, and no use of medications restricted by the protocol. Secondary end points included a BICLA response in patients with a high interferon gene signature at baseline; reductions in the glucocorticoid dose, in the severity of skin disease, and in counts of swollen and tender joints; and the annualized flare rate. Results A total of 362 patients received the randomized intervention: 180 received anifrolumab and 182 received placebo. The percentage of patients who had a BICLA response was 47.8% in the anifrolumab group and 31.5% in the placebo group (difference, 16.3 percentage points; 95% confidence interval, 6.3 to 26.3; P = 0.001). Among patients with a high interferon gene signature, the percentage with a response was 48.0% in the anifrolumab group and 30.7% in the placebo group; among patients with a low interferon gene signature, the percentage was 46.7% and 35.5%, respectively. Secondary end points with respect to the glucocorticoid dose and the severity of skin disease, but not counts of swollen and tender joints and the annualized flare rate, also showed a significant benefit with anifrolumab. Herpes zoster and bronchitis occurred in 7.2% and 12.2% of the patients, respectively, who received anifrolumab. There was one death from pneumonia in the anifrolumab group. Conclusions Monthly administration of anifrolumab resulted in a higher percentage of patients with a response (as defined by a composite end point) at week 52 than did placebo, in contrast to the findings of a similar phase 3 trial involving patients with SLE that had a different primary end point. The frequency of herpes zoster was higher with anifrolumab than with placebo. (Funded by AstraZeneca; number, NCT02446899.)

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