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Questions raised after two deaths in AbbVie arthritis study

Published on 12/09/17 at 09:13am

AbbVie’s rheumatoid arthritis drug, upadacitinib, is the company’s big plan to manage the inevitable loss of sales from Humira, as biosimilars begin to take chunks out of its market space. Only last month, the FDA approved Boehringer Ingelheim’s Cyltezo as a biosimilar to the drug – joining Amgen’s Amjevita.

These plans have not been derailed but safety concerns are now going to dog the drug until further data is released after two patients were reported to have died whilst receiving upadacitinib in a Phase 3 trial. AbbVie reported that one patient in the 30mg dose group exhibited symptoms including fever and diarrhoea who then suffered heart failure. On the other patient, AbbVie could not give any reasons for the cause of death.

The press release announcing the results of the trial understandably concentrated on the strong data shown by the drug and suggested that the safety profile of the drug remained consistent with previously trials.

Upadacitinib is a JAK1-selective inhibitor that was being trialled in moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis who had not adequately responded to treatment with biologic DMARDs. The therapy managed to meet all of the study’s primary and secondary endpoints, signalling a promising drug for the company but now it will have to reassure both regulators and investors that the deaths were not related to the drug.

“We are very pleased with the positive results for upadacitinib in the SELECT-BEYOND trial. Particularly exciting is the proportion of patients who achieved clinical remission by week 12 and 24, despite having inadequate responses with previous biologic therapies,” said Michael Severino, Executive Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer, AbbVie. “Together with previously reported results from SELECT-NEXT, these data further support the potential for upadacitinib to be a meaningful treatment option for rheumatoid arthritis patients. We continue to build upon our leadership in immunology as we advance the development program for upadacitinib across a broad range of immune-mediated diseases.”

The company reported that further results from the trial will be presented at a future medical meeting and would be published.

Ben Hargreaves

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