Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Etanercept Recommended for RA Complicated by Hepatitis C

By: M. ALEXANDER OTTO, Family Practice News Digital Network

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. – Etanercept and a few other tumor necrosis factor inhibitors should be considered first-line therapy for treating rheumatoid arthritis in patients with active hepatitis C virus infection, according to Dr. Leonard Calabrese, chair of clinical immunology and professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
A systematic literature review (Rheumatology (Oxford) 2011;50:1700-11) that included 153 patients – 91 with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – "demonstrated quite clearly that there are no safety signals from this. TNF inhibitors work in the same general manner with the same predicted responses in hepatitis C patients as they do in patients who are uninfected," he said.
"Most of the data are on etanercept," and recent guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology recommend it in RA patients with hepatitis C based on observations and other level-C evidence, he noted.
For those and other reasons, "I consider TNF inhibitors first-lines of therapy. These drugs can [also] be used concomitantly" with hepatitis C treatments, including protease inhibitors, which seem to greatly improve cure rates when included with other antiviral therapies, he said at Perspectives in Rheumatic Diseases 2012, sponsored by Skin Disease Education Foundation (SDEF).
"When we find somebody with hepatitis C in our practice, we are doing them a huge favor because we can bring them into the circle of care and treat the thing that is more serious than their" RA, Dr. Calabrese said.

Meanwhile, the guidelines do not recommend methotrexate or leflunomide in the setting of hepatitis C virus infection because the drugs might cause additional liver damage.
Among others, Dr. Calabrese screens baby boomers – the largest reservoir of hepatitis C in the United States – and people going on to high-risk drugs, "which is basically anyone going onto a" disease-modifying antirheumatic drug, he said.
"Having antibody to hepatitis C does not prove you have chronic hepatitis C infection, only that you have immunologic memory to the virus. The confirmatory test [for active infection] is the presence of [hepatitis C virus] RNA in the serum, detected by" polymerase chain reaction. "When you find this, the most important part is to refer [the patient] to a hepatologist," he said.
Screening for hepatitis C based on liver enzymes "is a fallacy," he said. Patients with chronic infection can have normal levels, and persistently normal levels do not rule out significant disease.

Perhaps 5 million people in the United States have active, chronic infection. There’s been a slight uptick in cases among men who have sex with men and drug users in rural areas who inject prescription drugs, he noted.

Dr. Calabrese is a consultant for Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, Janssen, and Pfizer. He is a speaker for Amgen. SDEF and this news organization are owned by Frontline Medical Communications.

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