Safety of tacrolimus in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: long-term experience
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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the long-term safety of tacrolimus 3 mg/day in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: Patients with active RA who had discontinued all DMARDs for at least 2 weeks and had at least five tender/painful joints and three swollen joints, and required DMARD treatment in the opinion of the investigator, were enrolled into this open-label long-term safety trial. In addition, patients who had completed at least 3 months of treatment with tacrolimus 2 mg/day, tacrolimus 3 mg/day or placebo in a Phase III double-blind efficacy trial were allowed to roll over into this study. This latter group of patients did not have to fulfil any joint count requirements prior to entry into the long-term safety study, provided that no more than 14 days had elapsed between the end of their participation in the double-blind study and screening for the long-term safety study. All patients enrolled received tacrolimus 3 mg/day in addition to their current regimen of NSAIDs and corticosteroids. RESULTS: 896 patients received at least one dose of tacrolimus 3 mg. The median duration of treatment was 359 days. 145 patients (16.2%) withdrew from the study for adverse events possibly or probably related to tacrolimus, 33 patients (3.7%) withdrew from the study for adverse events unrelated to tacrolimus and 112 (12.5%) withdrew for lack of efficacy. No adverse event with an incidence >0.7% appeared for the first time after the first 3 months of treatment with 3 mg tacrolimus. 529 patients (59%) experienced an adverse event that was possibly or probably related to tacrolimus; the most common were diarrhoea (14.6%), nausea (10.3%), tremor (9.0%), headache (8.7%), abdominal pain (7.9%), dyspepsia (7.6%), increased creatinine (6.8%) and hypertension (5.4%). Twenty-four patients (2.7%) experienced serious adverse events possibly or probably related to study drug; the most common were pneumonia (0.6%), hyperglycaemia (0.3%), gastroenteritis (0.2%), pancreatitis (0.2%) and diabetes mellitus (0.2%). The mean creatinine level increased from 67+/-19 micromol/l (0.76+/-0.22 mg/dl) at baseline to 75+/-26 micromol/l (0.85+/-0.30 mg/dl) (P<0.0001) at end of treatment. 351 (40.3%) of the 872 patients for whom creatinine levels were available at both baseline and during treatment had > or =30% increase from baseline in serum creatinine during the study, either related or unrelated to tacrolimus, with 73 patients (8.4%) having creatinine levels exceeding the normal range. At end of treatment, 177 patients (20.3%) had a > or =30% increase from baseline in creatinine. Serum creatinine remained within the normal range throughout the trial in approximately 90% of patients. At the end of treatment, the ACR20, ACR50 and ACR70 response rates were 38.4%, 18.6% and 9.0% respectively. Over 26% of patients had at least a 70% improvement in both swollen and painful/tender joints. CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates that tacrolimus was safe and well-tolerated and provided clinical benefit over a period of at least 12 months.