Upadacitinib (Rinvoq): Once-Daily Oral Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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Disease Burden and Current Treatment Landscape

In June 2020, upadacitinib hemihydrate (Rinvoq; AbbVie), an oral reversible JAK1 selective inhibitor received local regulatory approval for use in ‘moderate to severe active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in adult patients who have responded inadequately to, or who are intolerant to one or more disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).’

RA is a chronic systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes significant pain, disability, and progressive joint destruction. Overtime, if inadequately treated, irreversible joint damage and loss of function can result in disability, impaired quality of life and premature death. In Singapore, RA affects up to 1% of the population, commonly between 30-50 years of age, with women 3 times more likely to develop RA than men. The 2010 Singapore Disease of Burden Study ranked RA as the 7th leading cause of years lived with disability (YLD), accounting for 42% of the overall burden from musculoskeletal disease.

RA disease management is aimed at maintaining physical function and good quality of life, grounded on the key tenet of treating to a target of clinical remission or low disease activity. First-line pharmacological management involves conventional-synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (csDMARDs) monotherapy, with oral methotrexate (MTX) as the preferred agent. However, approximately 30% of patients with RA respond inadequately to csDMARDs and guidelines acknowledge that further pharmacotherapy to achieve treatment goals may ultimately involve multiple csDMARDs, biological DMARDs and targeted synthetic DMARDs with different mechanisms of action.

Drug Profile: Upadacitinib (Rinvoq) and the SELECT Phase III Clinical Program

Upadacitinib (Rinvoq) is a once-daily, oral Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor with increased selectivity for JAK1 over JAK2, JAK3, and tyrosine kinase 2 (TK2). It has demonstrated a high and rapid efficacy in the treatment of RA refractory to csDMARD and bDMARD therapies. Upadacitinib’s SELECT Phase III clinical programme comprised five pivotal trials that recruited over 4,400 patients with RA, including csDMARD-naïve patients and in inadequate responders to csDMARDs or bDMARDs. The drug is available in Singapore as an orally administered extended-release 15mg tablet and is dosed at 15mg once daily.

Its JAK-1 selectivity is postulated to provide a better safety profile compared to earlier JAK inhibitors tofacitinib and baricitinib, that target more than one JAK molecule. However, their comparative efficacy and safety for RA have not been evaluated in head-to-head clinical trials. 

From a safety perspective, JAK inhibitors have been associated with several safety risks including herpes zoster, serious and opportunistic infections and thromboembolic events. An integrated safety analysis of the five key trials within the SELECT Phase III program support an acceptable safety profile of upadacitinib in the treatment of patients with RA, with no new safety risks compared with other JAK inhibitors. In general, the most common TEAEs were URTI, nasopharyngitis, UTI and for upadacitinib 30mg only, increased blood creatine phosphokinase (CPK). There were 22 treatment-emergent deaths reported with upadacitinib which translated to a consistent standardized mortality rate (SMR) of 0.58 when compared to the general population (95% CI; 0.37 to 0.85). Further, despite signals for an additional clinically meaningful benefit with the upadacitinib 30mg dose, the higher risk of AEs has led AbbVie to only seek market authorisation for the upadacitinib (Rinvoq) 15mg dose in RA treatment.

 A brief overview of the five key trials within SELECT are described below. 

Trial Intervention/ Comparator Primary Efficacy Outcome Safety

RA with inadequate response to MTX

Intervention: upadacitinib 15mg (n=652) + MTX

Comparator: adalimumab (n=327) + MTX; or placebo (n=652)  + MTX 

At Week 26: placebo patients were switched to upadacitinib

  • At 12 weeks, significantly more achieved ACR20 while  on upadacitinib + MTX: upadacitinib 71%, adalimumab 63%, p≤0.050; placebo 36%, p≤0.001
  • Significantly more achieved DAS29[CRP] ≤ 2.6 while on upadacitinib: upadacitinib 29%, placebo 6%, adalimumab 18%, p≤0.001
AEs were comparable between the upadacitinib and adalimumab groups. The proportions of patients with serious AEs and AEs leading to discontinuation were highest in the adalimumab group; the proportions of patients with herpes zoster and those with CPK elevations were highest in the upadacitinib group.

RA with inadequate response to at least 1 csDMARD

Intervention: upadacitib 15mg (n=221) or 30mg (n=219) + csDMARD

Comparator: placebo (n=221) + csDMARD

After 12 weeks: placebo patients were switched to upadacitinib 15mg or 30mg once daily

  • At 12 weeks, significantly more achieved ACR20 while on upadacitinib + csDMARD: upadacitinib 15mg 64%, upadacitinib 30mg 66% placebo 36%, p≤0.001
  • Significantly more achieved DAS29[CRP] ≤ 3.2 while on upadacitinib + csDMARD: upadacitinib 15mg 48%, upadacitinib 30mg 48% placebo 17%, p<0.0001
AEs were reported in 57% receiving upadacitinib 15mg and 54% of patients receiving upadacitinib 40mg, and 49% of patients receiving placebo. The most frequent reported AE in the upadacitinib groups were nausea, nasopharyngitis, URTI and infections. 

RA with inadequate response to MTX

Intervention: upadacitinib monotherapy 15mg (n=217) or 30mg (n=215)

Comparator: MTX (n=216)

Starting week 14: MTX patients were switched to 15mg/ 30mg upadacitinib

  • At 14 weeks, statistically significant ACR20 in favour of upadacitinib over MTX alone: upadacitinib 15mg 68%, upadacitinib 30mg 71%, methotrexate 41%, p≤0.001
  • Significantly more achieved DAS29[CRP] ≤ 3.2 while on upadacitinib: upadacitinib 15mg 45%, upadacitinib 30mg 53%, MTX 19%, p<0.0001
AEs were reported in 47% of MTX patients, 47% of upadacitinib 15mg patients and 49% of upadacitinib 30mg tablets. Of note, herpes zoster occurred at a higher rate in the upadacitinib arms. 

RA with inadequate response to bDMARDs

Intervention: upadacitinib 15mg (n=165) or 30mg (n=165) + csDMARD

Comparator: placebo + csDMARD (n=85)

Starting Week 12: followed up by upadacitinib 15mg and 30mg

  • At 12 weeks, statistically significant ACR20 in favour of upadacitinib + csDMARD; upadacitinib 15mg 65%, upadacitinib 30mg 56%, placebo 28%, p≤0.001
  • Significantly more achieved DAS29[CRP] ≤ 3.2 while on upadacitinib: upadacitinib 15mg 43%, upadacitinib 30mg 42%, placebo 14% 
Up to Week 12, overall AEs were similar between placebo (56%) and upadacitinib 15mg (55%), but higher in upadacitinib 30mg (67%). The most common AE reported in the treatment group (>5%) was URTI, nasopharyngitis,  UTI and RA worsening.  
SELECT-EARLY Intervention: upadacitinib (n=303) + csDMARD

Comparator: IV abatacept (n=309) + csDMARD

Change from baseline in DAS28-CRP at week 12: 

-2.52 (upadacitinib) and -2.00 (abatacept); difference, -0.52 points 95% CI, -0.69 to -0.35; p<0.001 for superiority

Serious AEs and serious infections were reported in 3.3% and 1.0% (upadacitinib); 1.6% and 0.3% (abatacept) respectively.

Abbreviations: ACR20: 20% improvement in American College of Rheumatology criteria, DAS28[CRP]: 28-joint disease activity score using C-reactive protein, MTX: methotrexate

The Clinical Landscape

Evidence to date has provided compelling evidence for the promising JAK1 selective inhibitor. A long term extension study of the SELECT-COMPARE population observed that upadacitinib (Rinvoq) continued to maintain higher levels of clinical response, compared to adalimumab, in patients with RA through Week 72 with no new safety signals. Separately, to address the limitations surrounding direct comparative data for upadacitinib against other possible RA therapeutics, a network meta-analysis (NMA) by Cacciapaglia et al. (2021) pooled evidence from 11 RCTs evaluating 6,004 patients with active RA inadequately responding to previous csDMARDs. The analysis compared ACR50 response at 24 weeks to adalimumab originator/ biosimilars, abatacept, baricitinib, certolizumab pegol, tofacitinib or upadacitinib with MTX. The NMA concluded that upadacitinib ranked first among treatments with a 86.3% probability of being the agent more likely to induce ACR50 response.

UK NICE highlighted that csDMARDs are often ineffective for many with active RA and bDMARDs treatment often produces an inadequate response. Newer targeted DMARDs such as upadacitinib (Rinvoq) have revolutionised the treatment landscape, providing alternative tailored therapies for patients. The high direct and indirect costs associated with RA, coupled with substantial morbidity and mortality affecting millions of people globally, underscore the potential benefits of improved treatments for this chronic disease to patients, their families and society.

Upadacitinib (Rinvoq) has also gone on to receive local market authorisation for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS) in November 2021. The use of upadacitinib for the latter indications are discussed separately. In the U.S. and EU, upadacitinib has most recently been approved for use in refractory, moderate to severe atopic dermatitis (Jan 2022). Phase 3 trials of upadacitinib in Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, giant cell arteritis and Takayasu arteritis are ongoing.

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