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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Objective

To identify predictors of moderate-to-severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) flare in 562 patients treated with standard therapy alone in phase III belimumab trials, and to evaluate the impact of standard therapies on preventing flares.

Methods

Post hoc analysis assessed baseline demographics, disease activity, and biomarkers in patients with and those without flare at treatment weeks 24 and 52. Severe flare was defined by the modified SLE Flare Index (SFI) and the development of any new British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG) A domain score. Severe and moderate flare was defined by development of 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores. Baseline characteristics associated with a ≥10% absolute difference or a ≥50% increase in flare rates were considered predictive.

Results

Frequencies of flares over 52 weeks according to the SFI, any new BILAG A domain score, and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores were 23.7%, 23.1%, and 32.0%, respectively. Flare predictors by univariate analysis on all 3 indices at weeks 24 and 52 were a score ≥12 on the Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus National Assessment version of the SLE Disease Activity Index (SELENA–SLEDAI); anti–double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) positivity; proteinuria (≥0.5 gm/24 hours); BILAG renal, vasculitic, and hematologic scores; elevated C-reactive protein levels; and B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) levels ≥2 ng/ml. Independent predictors by multivariate analysis at week 52 were SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG renal involvement and anti-dsDNA ≥200 IU/ml (on all 3 indices); SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG neurologic and vasculitic involvement (on 2 indices: any new BILAG A domain score and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores); BLyS levels ≥2 ng/ml (on 2 indices: the SFI and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores); and low C3 level (on the SFI). Baseline medications did not significantly decrease or increase moderate-to-severe SLE flare risk.

Conclusion

Patients who were receiving standard SLE therapy and had renal, neurologic, or vasculitic involvement, elevated anti-dsDNA or BLyS levels, or low C3 had increased risk of clinically meaningful flare over 1 year. Hydroxychloroquine use was not predictive.

The clinical course of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is highly variable ([1]). Flare (mild, moderate, or severe) is common, occurring in 65–70% of patients with SLE within 1 year ([2-5]). Many investigators have attempted to identify predictors of SLE flare, with inconsistent results. The absence of an accepted definition of any SLE “flare” complicates the interpretation and comparison of findings ([5]). There is, however, good agreement on what constitutes severe flare, which is more clinically meaningful as it is usually associated with a change in treatment ([2, 4]). Identification of patients at increased risk of moderate-to-severe flares may also improve efficiency of clinical trials and patient clinical management.

Studies from the Hopkins Lupus Cohort found that decreased levels of anti–double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) were most likely to occur on the day of a flare ([6, 7]). In a prospective study from the same group, African American race and low C4 level at baseline independently predicted flare over the course of 1 year ([5]). Anti-dsDNA positivity and low C3 level at baseline predicted 1 British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG) ([8]) A domain score or 2 B domain scores, but neither was a predictor in a multiple regression model. Similarly, in another prospective study, significant elevations in anti-dsDNA titers preceded 24 of 33 flares by 8–10 weeks ([9]).

In another study, baseline erythrocyte sedimentation rate, anemia, lymphopenia, and antinuclear antibody (ANA) titer predicted SLE flare (≥3-point increase in SLE Disease Activity Index [SLEDAI] [10] score) over the course of 1 year ([3]). Neither C4 nor anti-dsDNA was significantly associated with flare. Further, when evaluating flares (≥4-point increase in SLEDAI 2000 [SLEDAI-2K] [11] score) over 1–3 years, only the adjusted mean SLEDAI-2K score was a modest predictor of flare ([12, 13]). It has been observed that patients with active disease are more likely to have a clinically meaningful flare in the most commonly affected organ domains (musculoskeletal, mucocutaneous, renal, and neurologic), and predictors can vary across organ domain flares ([2-5, 12, 14, 15]).

In patients from the Hopkins Lupus Cohort, low baseline SLE disease activity (score ≤4 on the Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus National Assessment version of the SLEDAI [SELENA–SLEDAI] [16]) and concomitant high baseline levels of interferon-regulated chemokines were found to predict flare (64% with a high chemokine score had flares versus 28% with a low chemokine score; P < 0.001) ([17]). Potential predictors of flare were assessed in patients with serologically active but clinically quiescent SLE (global BILAG scores <6 and anti-dsDNA levels >50 units/ml on ≥2 occasions), and 81% experienced flare over the course of 5 years ([18]). Antinucleosome antibody positivity and markedly elevated anti-dsDNA antibody levels were associated with significantly shorter times to first flare, and higher absolute antinucleosome titers were associated with multiple episodes of flare.

Studies that examined whether medications affect SLE flare risk produced mixed results. Discontinuation of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) therapy was associated with a higher flare rate in 1 study ([19]), while another study found that baseline HCQ use did not affect the frequency of BILAG A or B domain scores ([5]). In another trial, patients with stable SLE that became serologically active were then treated with 1–2 weeks of placebo or prednisone ([20]). Over the subsequent 3 months, severe flare occurred in 30% of patients treated with placebo versus 0% of patients treated with prednisone. Clinical flare is a common cause of hospitalization ([21]). The total number of flares per provider visit has been associated with increased risk of organ damage and death ([22]). Flare also results in higher healthcare costs ([23]).

In the 2 phase III trials of belimumab (a human recombinant IgG1λ monoclonal antibody that specifically inhibits the biologic activity of soluble B lymphocyte stimulator [BLyS]), the Study of Belimumab in Subjects with SLE 52-week trial (BLISS-52) and the BLISS 76-week trial (BLISS-76) (ClinicalTrials.gov identifiers NCT00424476 and NCT00410384, respectively), patients with autoantibody-positive SLE were randomized to treatment with placebo or belimumab, while also receiving standard SLE therapy ([24, 25]). The SLE Responder Index (SRI) response rate at week 52 was significantly greater with both doses of belimumab (1 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg) versus placebo in BLISS-52, and with 10 mg/kg belimumab in BLISS-76. The present retrospective post hoc combined analysis of baseline demographics, SLE disease activity, and laboratory biomarkers was conducted to identify predictors of moderate-to-severe flare at treatment weeks 24 and 52 in patients randomized to receive standard therapy alone in the BLISS trials (n = 562). Two different definitions of severe SLE flare and a third definition evaluating both severe and moderate SLE flares were examined by univariate and multivariate analyses. A second objective was to evaluate the impact of individual standard therapies on these 3 moderate-to-severe flare rates over time.

PATIENTS AND METHODS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Study design

BLISS-52 (n = 865) and BLISS-76 (n = 819) were multicenter, multinational, placebo-controlled trials in which patients with active SLE (SELENA–SLEDAI score ≥6 at screening) were randomized to standard therapy plus either placebo or belimumab at 1 or 10 mg/kg ([24, 25]). In addition to active SLE, other inclusion criteria included autoantibody positivity (ANA titer ≥1:80 or anti-dsDNA level ≥30 IU/ml), stable standard SLE therapy for ≥30 days, no severe active lupus nephritis or severe active central nervous system lupus, no intravenous cyclophosphamide within 6 months of enrollment, and no intravenous immunoglobulin or prednisone (>100 mg/day) within 3 months. Changes to standard therapy (immunosuppressive and antimalarial drugs) were restricted after 16 weeks of treatment. The prednisone dose was unrestricted for the first 24 weeks, but thereafter the dose had to be within 25% or 5 mg of the baseline dose, with no further increases for the remainder of the study. Addition of an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor after 4 months, or statins after 6 months, was prohibited.

Patients received study treatment for 52 weeks in BLISS-52 and for 76 weeks in BLISS-76 ([24, 25]). The primary efficacy end point was the SRI response rate at week 52, defined as a ≥4-point reduction in SELENA–SLEDAI score, no new BILAG A domain score and ≤1 new B domain score, and no worsening in physician's global assessment score compared with baseline.

In both BLISS trials, each site was required to obtain ethics committee/institutional review board approval of the final study protocol ([24, 25]). Patients' rights, safety, and well-being were protected based on the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Informed consent was obtained from each patient prior to study screening.

SLE flare definitions

This post hoc analysis used the following 3 definitions of SLE flare: severe flare as defined by the SLE Flare Index (SFI), modified to exclude the single criterion of an increase in the SELENA–SLEDAI score to ≥12 ([4]); development of any new BILAG A domain score (considered “severe” flare) ([2]); development of 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores (an inclusive definition that comprises patients with severe flares [1 new BILAG A domain score] and patients with “moderate” flares [2 new BILAG B domain scores]) ([2]).

Baseline demographic variables and disease activity measures

Demographic variables evaluated as possible predictors of moderate-to-severe SLE flare included race, Hispanic/Latino origin, age, sex, height, weight, and body mass index. Baseline values of the following measures of SLE disease activity were also considered as possible predictors of moderate-to-severe flare: SLE duration; SELENA–SLEDAI (category [0–3, 4–9, 10–11, ≥12], mean score, range, and scores for the 24 individual items reported when there were ≥30 patients per group and for the 9 organ systems [see Supporting Appendix A for the guidelines used for scoring proteinuria for the SELENA–SLEDAI, available on the Arthritis & Rheumatism web site at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.37995/abstract]) ([10]); physician's global assessment (category, mean and median scores, range); BILAG A–E domain scores for the 8 organ domains ([26]); Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics/American College of Rheumatology (ACR) Damage Index (SDI) ([27]) (mean and median score range); and ACR SLE classification criteria ([28]) (presence/absence of each criterion; SLE is diagnosed when ≥4 criteria are present, serially or simultaneously).

Baseline abnormal laboratory biomarker values

The proportions of patients with abnormal baseline values were calculated for the following biomarkers to evaluate whether there was a threshold effect of different markers of biologic activity: ANA titer (<1:80, ≥1:80–1:1,280, >1:1,280), anti-dsDNA level (<30, ≥30–200, >200 IU/ml), anti-Sm antibody (negative/positive [≥15 units/ml]), C3 (high/low, >1,800/<900 mg/liter), C4 (high/low, >47/<16 mg/dl), C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, proteinuria (<0.5, 0.5–<1.0, 1.0–<2.0, ≥2.0 gm/24 hours), IgG, IgA, and IgM levels, and BLyS quartile levels. The analysis also considered the predictive value of baseline measures of B and T cell subsets and ratios. Data for B and T cell subsets were obtained from BLISS-76 only. The numbers of dual-positive CD3+CD4+ and CD3+CD8+ T cells and the CD4+:CD8+ ratio (109/liter) were determined. Baseline counts per mm3 of the following B cell subsets were assessed for predictive value: CD19+, CD20+, CD20+/CD27+ (memory), and CD20+/CD27− (naive). In addition, the following counts of subsets per ml were evaluated using the formula for rare subset count (rare subset count/ml = rare event count/CD19+ event count × CD19+ count/mm3 × 1,000): CD20+/CD69+ (activated B cells), CD27high/CD20− (short-lived plasma cells), CD138+/CD20− (CD138+ plasma cells), CD138+/CD20+ (plasmacytoid cells), and CD38high/CD27high (SLE subset).

Baseline standard and adjunctive SLE therapies

Baseline use of the following medications was evaluated to identify predictors of moderate-to-severe SLE flare: corticosteroids (mean dosage, patients receiving ≤7.5 mg/day versus patients receiving >7.5 mg/day), antimalarial therapy, immunosuppressive therapy, mycophenolate mofetil, azathioprine, methotrexate, angiotensin pathway antihypertensives, aspirin, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors.

Statistical analysis

Rates of SLE flares observed during the first 24 weeks and 52 weeks of the studies were calculated using each of the 3 flare indices for groups of patients categorized by each demographic variable, baseline disease activity measure, and laboratory biomarker examined. A clinically meaningful difference in flare rate at week 24 or 52 was prospectively defined prior to the conduct of the analysis as a ≥10% absolute difference or a ≥50% increase associated with the presence or absence of a baseline variable. Laboratory biomarkers were defined as categorical variables (present or absent at baseline). Univariate comparisons of flare rates between patient groups were performed using a likelihood ratio test and were reported for baseline disease activity characteristics, with a minimum of 20 subjects. Univariate analysis for neurologic organ system (n = 17) was not performed; however, these data were included in the multivariate analysis. A multivariate Cox proportional hazards model was used to determine baseline variables that were predictive of SLE flare based on a stepwise forward-selection process using a selection criterion at an alpha level of 0.05. The impact of changes over time in any of the variables was not examined.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Baseline characteristics

Table 1 summarizes baseline characteristics of patients from the BLISS trials randomized to receive standard SLE therapy alone.

Table 1. Baseline characteristics of the patients treated with standard SLE therapy alone in the BLISS trials*
 BLISS-52 (n = 287)BLISS-76 (n = 275)All (n = 562)
  1. Except where indicated otherwise, values are the percent of patients. SLE = systemic lupus erythematosus; BLISS-52 = Study of Belimumab in Subjects with SLE 52-week trial; BLISS-76 = BLISS 76-week trial; SELENA–SLEDAI = Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus National Assessment version of the SLE Disease Activity Index; BILAG = British Isles Lupus Assessment Group; ANA = antinuclear antibody; anti-dsDNA = anti–double-stranded DNA; CRP = C-reactive protein; BLyS = B lymphocyte stimulator.

Demographics   
Women949293
Age, mean ± SD years36.2 ± 11.840.0 ± 11.938.1 ± 12.0
Race   
White296848
Asian37421
African descent4149
Disease characteristics   
SLE disease duration, mean ± SD years5.9 ± 6.27.4 ± 6.76.7 ± 6.5
SELENA–SLEDAI   
Mean ± SD score9.7 ± 3.69.8 ± 4.09.8 ± 3.8
Score ≥12292929
Proteinuria171114
Vasculitis767
Neurologic222
Low complement645861
Increased DNA binding716468
BILAG involvement   
≥1 A domain score or ≥2 B domain scores586863
≥1 A domain score181416
Renal domains A–C453239
Vasculitis domain A or B8119
Hematologic domain A or B181316
Neurologic domain A or B021
Medication   
Corticosteroid967787
Prednisone or equivalent >7.5 mg/day674657
Dosage, mean ± SD mg/day11.9 ± 7.99.4 ± 8.910.7 ± 8.5
Other immunosuppressive agents435649
Mycophenolate mofetil71511
Azathioprine232122
Methotrexate122217
Biomarkers   
ANA titer ≥1:80929292
Anti-dsDNA ≥30 IU/ml716367
Anti-Sm ≥15 units/ml352731
Low C3 (<900 mg/liter)464244
Low C4 (<160 mg/liter)565254
CRP positive (>3 mg/liter)413538
BLyS >0.5 ng/ml979998
Proteinuria ≥0.5 gm/24 hours251721

SLE flare rates

The SLE flare rates at week 24 according to each of the 3 indices used were as follows: 13.7% of patients (n = 77) had a severe flare according to the SFI (severe SFI flare), 19.8% of patients (n = 111) had 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores, and 12.6% (n = 71) had any new BILAG A domain score. By treatment week 52, 23.7% of patients (n = 133) had a severe SFI flare, 32.0% (n = 180) had 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores, and 23.1% (n = 130) had any new BILAG A domain score.

Baseline disease activity

Five baseline disease activity measures predicted SLE flares on all 3 indices at both weeks 24 and 52 according to univariate analysis: a SELENA–SLEDAI score ≥12, moderate-to-severe disease activity involving SELENA–SLEDAI–defined proteinuria, renal involvement (BILAG domains A, B, or C), vasculitic involvement (BILAG domains A or B), and hematologic involvement (BILAG domains A or B) (Figure 1) (week 24 data are depicted for only the modified SFI; the results using the other 2 indices were similar and are not shown). The SELENA–SLEDAI serologic markers of low C3/C4 and anti-dsDNA titers at baseline predicted severe SFI flare at week 52 and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores, but not any new BILAG A domain score.

image

Figure 1. Baseline disease activity in patients with and patients without flare as defined by the modified Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Flare Index at week 52 (A) and week 24 (B), by 1 new British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG) A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores at week 52 (C), and by any new BILAG A domain score at week 52 (D). * = P < 0.05; + = P < 0.01; # = P < 0.001 versus no flare. SS = Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus National Assessment version of the SLE Disease Activity Index.

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Baseline disease activity measures not predictive of flare were SLE duration; physician's global assessment; SDI; ACR classification criteria; BILAG general, mucocutaneous, neuropsychiatric, musculoskeletal, and cardiorespiratory involvement; and SELENA–SLEDAI elements other than score ≥12 and proteinuria. Data for variables that were not predictive on all 3 indices and at both weeks 24 and 52 are not shown.

Abnormal levels of laboratory biomarkers at baseline

According to univariate analysis, abnormal baseline measures of 4 laboratory biomarkers—elevated CRP level, proteinuria ≥0.5 gm/24 hours, anti-dsDNA positivity, and serum BLyS level ≥2 ng/ml—predicted SLE flare on all 3 indices at both week 24 and week 52 (Figure 2) (week 24 data are depicted only for the modified SFI; the results with the other 2 indices were similar and are not shown). Low C3 and C4 levels predicted flare on 2 indices (severe SFI flare and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores) at week 52 and on all 3 indices at week 24. Anti-Sm positivity (≥15 units/ml) predicted flare at week 24 based on severe SFI flare and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores; however, it was not predictive of flare on any index at week 52. Baseline biomarkers not predictive of moderate-to-severe flares at weeks 24 and 52 on all 3 indices included ANA titer, immunoglobulins, and B and T cell subsets (data not shown).

image

Figure 2. Baseline laboratory values in patients with and patients without flare as defined by the modified SLE Flare Index (SFI) at week 52 (A) and week 24 (B), by 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores at week 52 (C), and by any new BILAG A domain score at week 52 (D). ∗ = P < 0.05; + = P < 0.01; # = P < 0.001 versus no flare. CRP = C-reactive protein; anti-dsDNA = anti–double-stranded DNA; BLyS = B lymphocyte stimulator (see Figure 1 for other definitions).

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Baseline levels of predictors

An analysis of SLE flare rates according to baseline values at specific cut points was performed to identify potential threshold effects where elevated levels of disease activity or a biomarker were predictive of an SLE flare. Threshold effects leading to increased flare rates were found to correlate with higher baseline levels for the following variables: SELENA–SLEDAI scores ≥12, proteinuria levels ≥0.5 gm/24 hours, anti-dsDNA titer >200 IU/ml, and BLyS levels ≥2 ng/ml (Table 2).

Table 2. Baseline disease activity and biomarkers in the 562 patients with flare by treatment week 52*
CategoryTotal number of patients in categoryModified SFI for severe flare (n = 133)One new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores (n = 180)Any new BILAG A domain score (n = 130)
  1. Values are the number (%) of patients of the total number of patients within a category. SFI = SLE Flare Index (see Table 1 for other definitions).

  2. a

    Enrollment was based on an initial screening SELENA–SLEDAI score of ≥6; in some patients, however, disease activity declined during the 35-day window from screening to day 0/baseline.

SELENA–SLEDAI scorea    
0–341 (25.0)1 (25.0)1 (25.0)
4–925946 (17.8)66 (25.5)46 (17.8)
10–1113731 (22.6)43 (31.4)32 (23.4)
≥1216255 (34.0)70 (43.2)51 (31.5)
BILAG score    
No A or B domain458 (17.8)15 (33.3)7 (15.6)
1 B domain517125 (24.2)165 (31.9)123 (23.8)
1 A domain or 2 B domains35392 (26.1)108 (30.6)93 (26.3)
1 A domain8925 (28.1)21 (23.6)19 (21.3)
Proteinuria, gm/24 hours    
<0.544390 (20.3)127 (28.7)88 (19.9)
0.5–<14414 (31.8)20 (45.5)16 (36.4)
≥1–<24318 (41.9)23 (53.5)17 (39.5)
≥2.03211 (34.4)10 (31.3)9 (28.1)
ANA titer    
<1:80459 (20.0)14 (31.1)11 (24.4)
≥1:80–1:1,28024051 (21.3)76 (31.7)59 (24.6)
>1:1,28027773 (26.4)90 (32.5)60 (21.7)
Anti-dsDNA, IU/ml    
<3018330 (16.4)45 (24.6)35 (19.1)
≥30–20019237 (19.3)55 (28.6)35 (18.2)
>20018766 (35.3)80 (42.8)60 (32.1)
BLyS quartile    
Quartile 1 (<0.996 ng/ml)13723 (16.8)36 (26.3)27 (19.7)
Quartile 2 (≥0.996 to <1.3565 ng/ml)14026 (18.6)38 (27.1)25 (17.9)
Quartile 3 (≥1.3565 to <1.924 ng/ml)13828 (20.3)39 (28.3)27 (19.6)
Quartile 4 (≥1.924 ng/ml)13955 (39.6)63 (45.3)48 (34.5)

Predictive value of baseline standard and adjunctive SLE therapies

None of the baseline medications evaluated, including corticosteroids, immunosuppressives (individually and as a group), antimalarials, and other concomitant medications, predicted flare on any index at either week 24 or week 52, with the exception of any steroid on the SFI at week 24 (Figure 3).

image

Figure 3. Baseline SLE medication use in patients with and patients without flare as defined by the modified SLE Flare Index at week 52 (A) and week 24 (B), by 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores at week 52 (C), and by any new BILAG A domain score at week 52 (D). ∗ = P < 0.05 versus no flare. MMF = mycophenolate mofetil; AZA = azathioprine; MTX = methotrexate (see Figure 1 for other definitions).

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Multivariate analysis

The presence of renal organ involvement (as measured by the SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG) and anti-dsDNA titer ≥200 IU/ml at baseline were independent predictors of moderate-to-severe SLE flare at week 52 (Table 3). This finding was consistent across all 3 flare indices on multivariate analysis. Neurologic and vasculitic organ involvement at baseline (as measured by the SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG) each independently predicted flare at week 52 according to 2 indices (1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores and any new BILAG A domain score). Baseline BLyS level ≥2 ng/ml independently predicted flare at week 52 on 2 indices (SFI and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores). Low C3 level was an independent predictor of a severe SFI flare at week 52.

Table 3. Predictors of flare over 52 weeks by multivariate analysis*
Modified SFI for severe flareHR (95% CI)One new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scoresHR (95% CI)Any new BILAG A domain scoreHR (95% CI)
  1. The statistical model included demographic characteristics, baseline disease activity characteristics, and baseline laboratory values simultaneously. BILAG organ domain involvement was defined as an A or B score at baseline, with the exception of renal involvement, which was defined as an A, B, or C score at baseline. SFI = SLE Flare Index; HR = hazard ratio; 95% CI = 95% confidence interval (see Table 1 for other definitions).

Renal organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG1.93 (1.36–2.75)Renal organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG1.98 (1.47–2.68)Renal organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG2.36 (1.66–3.35)
Anti-dsDNA ≥200 IU/ml1.73 (1.21–2.49)Anti-dsDNA ≥200 IU/ml1.63 (1.20–2.21)Anti-dsDNA ≥200 IU/ml1.83 (1.29–2.60)
Baseline BLyS ≥2 ng/ml1.86 (1.29–2.68)Baseline BLyS ≥2 ng/ml1.45 (1.05–2.00)
Neurologic organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG2.47 (1.33–4.5)Neurologic organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG3.11 (1.57–6.15)
Vasculitic organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG1.73 (1.15–2.62)Vasculitic organ involvement by SELENA–SLEDAI and/or BILAG1.88 (1.16–3.03)
Low C31.49 (1.03–2.15)

DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

In this study, multiple baseline disease activity characteristics involving organ systems most likely to be associated with severe or life-threatening SLE manifestations, serologic activity, and markedly elevated BLyS levels were found to be predictors of moderate-to-severe SLE flare over 1 year. This analysis has several strengths: inclusion of data from a large number of patients, use of 3 SLE flare indices focusing on severe or moderate and severe flares in the absence of an accepted definition of flare, and application of multivariate analysis. The 3 flare indices demonstrated high concordance regarding predictors. Nearly all variables (except low C3/C4 and anti-dsDNA positivity) that were significant predictors on univariate analysis using 1 flare index were also significant predictors with the other 2 indices at both week 24 and week 52.

There was a difference in rates of flares across the flare indices. By treatment week 52, the index consisting of 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores had the greatest flare rate (32% of patients; 23.1% of patients had any new BILAG A domain score), as it was more inclusive (it identified moderate flare if at least 2 new B organ domain scores were identified) and is the same criterion used to show clinically meaningful disease worsening in the SRI efficacy end point ([24, 25]). The modified SFI and any new BILAG A domain score flare indices had nearly identical frequencies of severe flares (23–24% of patients). In multivariate analysis, severe flares by these 2 indices had many similar characteristics (common independent predictors were renal disease and anti-dsDNA titer ≥200 IU/ml), but the modified SFI identified baseline low C3 and BLyS level ≥2 ng/ml, and any new BILAG A domain score flare index identified baseline vasculitic and neurologic disease activity as independent predictors. The modified SFI–defined severe flare requires triggering disease manifestations to be accompanied by significant changes in immunosuppressive agents or by hospitalization ([4]), whereas any new BILAG A domain score is usually associated with a change in therapy ([2]), although this is not required.

This study provides data that help us to identify patients at greater risk of severe SLE flare; these data should also help us to select the most appropriate SLE flare index in clinical trials assessing the ability of new therapies to reduce rates of moderate-to-severe lupus flare. Trial design would depend on patient population and sample size (power calculations), organ disease manifestations, serologic activity, overall primary efficacy end point, disease activity indices used, and desired trial duration.

In the multivariate analysis, 2 variables—anti-dsDNA titer ≥200 IU/ml and BILAG and/or SELENA–SLEDAI renal involvement—independently predicted moderate-to-severe SLE flare using all 3 indices. BILAG and/or SELENA–SLEDAI neurologic and vasculitic involvement were independent predictors of flares according to any new BILAG A domain score index and according to the 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores index. Baseline BLyS levels ≥2 ng/ml were an independent predictor of flares according to the modified SFI and according to the 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores index. Low C3 level independently predicted flare, using the modified SFI. BLyS levels have been shown to correlate with SLE disease activity over time and with autoantibody levels ([29-31]). Of note, BLyS levels in the BLISS trials were not predictive of an SRI response with belimumab treatment, which suggests that BLyS correlated more strongly with variations in SLE disease activity, such as that observed with moderate-to-severe SLE flare ([32]). In addition, early normalization of complement levels or anti-dsDNA titers by week 8 was found to be associated with a reduced risk of severe flare in all patients, irrespective of treatment group.

Comparison of results from the BLISS trials with those of previous studies is complicated by the differing definitions of SLE flare, study designs, variables, baseline patient characteristics, sample size, and followup periods. One study identified anti-dsDNA positivity as predicting flare over the course of 1 year ([5]). In another study, increased anti-dsDNA levels preceded flare by 8–10 weeks ([9]). In a third trial, anti-dsDNA levels 5 times the upper limit of normal were associated with a shorter time to first flare in patients with serologically active but clinically quiescent disease ([18]). Other investigators reported no consistent association between anti-dsDNA positivity or low complement levels and risk of flare ([3, 5-7, 12]). The Toronto Lupus Cohort (average SLEDAI-2K score 3.7) evaluated the determinants of any flare and persistently active disease over 1–3-year periods and identified modest predictors of SLE flare (SLEDAI-2K score increase ≥4 points from previous visit) such as the adjusted mean SLEDAI-2K score over 2–3 years and steroid use in the first year ([12]). Different SLE flare definitions focusing on different or lesser degrees of severity with or without required therapeutic changes have yielded different results.

The present study did not identify any significant demographic predictor of flare. An analysis from the Hopkins Lupus Cohort showed that African American race independently predicted risk of flare over the course of 1 year ([5]). The differing proportions of patients of African descent in the present analysis and the Hopkins study (9% and 37%, respectively) may account for this divergence.

Evidence is conflicting regarding whether any drug therapy, given either as maintenance therapy or in response to serologic indicators of increased disease activity, can affect risk of SLE flare. Baseline use of medication generally was not associated with a lower risk of subsequent flare in the present study. The exception was that use of any corticosteroid at baseline was associated with a higher flare rate at week 24 according to the SFI, although this was not confirmed by multivariate analysis. An earlier Canadian study, however, showed that maintaining HCQ therapy was associated with reduced risk of flare short term ([19]) and long term ([33]). Patients were randomized to withdrawal or continuation of the previously prescribed HCQ. Those in whom the drug therapy was stopped had a 2.5-fold higher rate of flare (mild-to-severe) over the course of 6 months and an ∼2-fold increase in major flares (flare definition was to increase prednisone by ≥10 mg/day or start a new immunosuppressive agent) over 3.5 years ([33]).

It should be noted that the Canadian study comprised patients with clinically quiescent SLE who had continued HCQ therapy for ≥6 months, while the BLISS trials examined patients with active seropositive disease. The placebo group in the Canadian study included 10-fold fewer patients than the BLISS trials, and the Canadian study evaluated the effect of withdrawing a maintenance treatment, while the present analysis assessed the impact of stable SLE therapies ([19, 24, 25, 33]). Patients in the BLISS trials receiving antimalarials did have numerically lower flare rates at week 52 according to 2 of the 3 flare indices and at week 24 on all 3 indices. Standard therapy in the Canadian study included only prednisone and NSAIDs, while in the BLISS trials it also included immunosuppressive agents such as methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil, and azathioprine. In the Plaquenil LUpus Systemic study, attempted optimization of HCQ dose over 7 months did not alter flare rate but, importantly, lower flare rates were observed in those who actually did achieve target levels of HCQ during the second 7 months of followup ([34]). It is also worth noting that in the Hopkins Lupus Cohort, baseline use of prednisone or immunosuppressive agents was associated with an increased risk of BILAG A domain and B domain scores, while a protective effect did not hold true for HCQ use ([5]). Finally, using a different approach, Tseng et al ([20]) found that initiating prednisone therapy based on serologic disease activity markers in clinically stable patients reduced severe flare risk.

The present study has the limitations of any retrospective post hoc analysis. The definition of a clinically significant difference in SLE flare rates used in this investigation requires prospective evaluation. The disease activity measure and laboratory biomarker predictors identified herein require validation in a prospective clinical trial. Although the number of neurologic events that occurred was small, these events were found to be independent predictors of flare in the multivariate analysis. This may be a result of the severity of these manifestations, but future analysis of greater numbers of these events is needed to confirm these findings. This analysis evaluated only baseline variables; it does not describe clinical (organ-specific) or biomarker changes immediately preceding the diagnosis of a new flare. These are topics for future analyses.

In summary, anti-dsDNA titers ≥200 IU/ml and renal organ involvement at baseline were independent predictors of moderate-to-severe SLE flare at week 52 on all 3 flare indices. Neurologic and vasculitic organ involvement and levels of BLyS ≥2 ng/ml at baseline each independently predicted flare at week 52 on 2 of the indices. Low C3 level was an independent predictor of severe SFI flare at week 52. Flare risks were generally similar across standard SLE therapies, including immunosuppressives, antimalarials, and corticosteroids. Close monitoring of patients with disease activity or biomarkers predictive of SLE flare may improve their care and long-term outcomes. Identification of flare predictors may also improve the efficiency of clinical trials by enabling researchers to balance distribution of predictors among subjects at baseline, adjust for predictors in statistical analysis, and recruit patients at higher or lower risk of flare as appropriate to the objective.

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and all authors approved the final version to be published. Dr. Petri had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study conception and design. Petri, van Vollenhoven, Zhong, Freimuth.

Acquisition of data. Petri, van Vollenhoven, Levy, Navarra, Cervera, Zhong, Freimuth.

Analysis and interpretation of data. Petri, van Vollenhoven, Buyon, Levy, Navarra, Cervera, Zhong, Freimuth.

ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences, Inc. facilitated the study design, provided editorial support for the manuscript, and reviewed and approved the manuscript prior to submission. The authors independently collected the data, interpreted the results, and had the final decision to submit the manuscript for publication. Publication of this article was not contingent upon approval by GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences, Inc.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Editorial support was provided by Eileen McCaffrey and Eleanore Gross of BioScience Communications, New York, NY, and was funded by GlaxoSmithKline and Human Genome Sciences, Inc.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. PATIENTS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. ROLE OF THE STUDY SPONSORS
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. REFERENCES
  10. Supporting Information

Additional Supporting Information may be found in the online version of this article.

FilenameFormatSizeDescription
ART_37995_sm_SupplFigure1.pdf417KSupplementary Figure 1
ART_37995_sm_SupplApp.docx17KSupplementary Data

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