Big changes are coming in the use of oral apremilast, currently approved for moderate to severe psoriasis and plaque psoriasis in adults, Bruce E. Strober, MD, PhD, predicted at MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar, held virtually this year.

“We’ll have a pediatric indication for apremilast in psoriasis down the line, and probably a mild to moderate indication for psoriasis, meaning we can use this drug in patients in whom we typically think about using only topical therapies. Keep on the lookout: I think the mild to moderate indication may be coming next year, and that’s going to really shake up the whole landscape of psoriasis therapy,” said Dr. Strober, a dermatologist at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and Central Connecticut Dermatology in Cromwell, Conn.

Mild or moderate psoriasis

Apremilast manufacturer Amgen has announced positive topline results from the phase 3 ADVANCE trial, a multicenter, placebo-controlled, double-blind, study of 595 patients with mild or moderate psoriasis as defined by an involved body surface area of 2%-15% and a Psoriasis Area and Severity Index score of 2-15. Participants were randomized to the approved dose of apremilast (Otezla) – 30 mg twice daily – or placebo for 16 weeks, followed by 16 weeks of open-label apremilast for all. The full study findings haven’t yet been published or presented at a medical conference, but Amgen announced that the results were positive for all primary and secondary endpoints, and the company plans to file a request with the Food and Drug Administration for an expanded indication for the oral agent.

Pediatric studies

A recently published phase 2, open-label, 1-year study of apremilast in 42 children and adolescents with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis demonstrated that weight-based dosing is the best approach in the pediatric population. The study, which serves as the template for coming phase 3 trials, showed that dosing apremilast at 20 mg twice daily in youths weighing not more than 35 kg and 30 mg twice daily in those who weighed more provided pharmacokinetic exposure similar to that achieved with apremilast at the standard adult dose of 30 mg twice daily. Most participants liked the taste of the tablet.

“My prediction is apremilast will have efficacy in children and teenagers comparable to what it has in adults, with a similar safety and adverse event profile,” Dr. Strober said.

Apremilast works by blocking phosphodiesterase type 4, thereby reducing cyclic AMP metabolism, with a resultant increase in cyclic AMP levels. Cyclic AMP is a regulator of inflammation. Boosting its level has the effect of decreasing tumor necrosis factor and other proinflammatory cytokines while increasing anti-inflammatory mediators, such as interleukin-10.

Dr. Strober characterized apremilast’s efficacy as “modest” by contemporary standards in adults with moderate to severe psoriasis, with week 16 PASI 75 rates of about 30% in randomized trials, compared with 5% in placebo-treated controls. He considers it a good option in patients with moderate disease who are needle phobic and in those averse to the inconvenience of laboratory monitoring. The drug is useful in treating psoriasis in especially challenging locations. Apremilast is specifically approved for scalp psoriasis, and Dr. Strober has anecdotally found it helpful in patients with palmoplantar psoriasis or genital psoriasis.

“Apremilast has tolerability issues: first and foremost diarrhea, nausea, and headache. Probably 15%-20% of patients have nausea or diarrhea ranging from mild to severe, and 1 in 20 have headache. You have to warn patients,” he said.

Roughly 1% of patients experience depressed mood. “I’ve seen it in a few patients. I definitely believe it’s real, so query patients about mood changes while taking apremilast,” the dermatologist advised.

One in 5 patients loses 5% of body weight during the first 6 months on apremilast, but there’s no additional weight loss thereafter. It’s wrong to characterize the oral agent as a weight-loss drug, though, since 80% of patients don’t lose weight, Dr. Strober noted.

Topical PDE-4 inhibitor shows promise

Separately at the Las Vegas meeting, Linda Stein Gold, MD, provided highlights of a phase 2b randomized trial of a topical cream formulation of an extremely potent PDE-4 inhibitor, roflumilast, in patients with chronic plaque psoriasis. This molecule is a couple hundred times more effective at inhibiting the PDE-4 receptor than either oral apremilast or topical crisaborole (Eucrisa). And as a once-daily topical agent with very little systemic absorption, roflumilast cream sidesteps the tolerability issues that accompany apremilast.

“Roflumilast is currently available as an oral formulation for treatment of [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], so it has a fairly well-established safety profile,” noted Dr. Stein Gold, director of dermatology clinical research at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

The 12-week, multicenter, phase 2b study sponsored by Arcutis Biotherapeutics included 331 patients with chronic plaque psoriasis who were randomized to once-daily 0.3% roflumilast cream, 0.15% roflumilast cream, or vehicle. Three-quarters of participants had baseline moderate disease.

A week-8 Investigator’s Global Assessment (IGA) score of 0 or 1, meaning clear skin or almost clear, plus at least a 2-grade improvement from baseline occurred in 32% of the high-dose roflumilast group, 25% of those on the 0.15% formulation, and 10% of controls. On the secondary endpoint of improvement in tough-to-treat intertriginous psoriasis, at week 12 an intertriginous IGA score of 0 or 1 plus at least a 2-point improvement from baseline was seen in 86% of the 0.3% roflumilast cream group, 50% on low-dose therapy, and 29% of controls. Moreover, the clinical improvements in IGA and itch kicked in quickly, with significant separation from placebo by week 2, Dr. Stein Gold noted.

The phase 3 program is now recruiting participants.

Dr. Strober and Dr. Stein Gold reported receiving research funding from and serving as consultants to Amgen and numerous other pharmaceutical companies.

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