Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, who runs the MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies research center at the University of California, San Diego, has found most pregnant women to be “entirely altruistic” about sharing their experiences with drug treatment during pregnancy.
This is good news for the growth of more information about the safety of biologics and other drugs during pregnancy. Pregnancy outcomes data are increasingly emerging – particularly for tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors – but dermatologists, rheumatologists, and their female patients with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) want much more.
And women’s participation in the MotherToBaby studies conducted by the nonprofit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) is key, say physicians who are treating women of reproductive age. OTIS is now listed in drug labeling as the “pregnancy registry” contact for many of the medications they may be discussing with patients.
Chambers said that most women appreciate “that participating in a study may not help her with her pregnancy, but it can help her sister or her friend or someone else who has these same questions in planning a pregnancy of ‘Can I stay on my treatment?’ or, in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, ‘Should I be concerned?’ “
OTIS has enrolled women with psoriasis and/or PsA in studies of nine medications, most of them biologics (both TNF-alpha blockers and newer anti-interleukin agents).
Four of the studies – those evaluating etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira), abatacept (Orencia), and ustekinumab (Stelara) – are now closed to enrollment with analyses either underway or completed. The other five are currently enrolling patients and involve treatment with certolizumab pegol (Cimzia), tildrakizumab (Ilumya), apremilast (Otezla), guselkumab (Tremfya), and tofacitinib (Xeljanz).
Lisa R. Sammaritano, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, who led the development of the American College of Rheumatology’s first guideline for the management of reproductive health in rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, recommends to some of her patients that they contact OTIS. “Their pregnancy registry studies have added important information to the field over the years,” she said.
Most recently, a study of the anti–TNF-alpha medication adalimumab that began in 2004 in pregnant patients with RA and Crohn’s disease culminated in a 2019 PLOS ONE paper reporting no associations between exposure to the medication and an increased risk of adverse outcomes. The outcomes studied were major structural birth defects, minor defects, spontaneous abortion, preterm delivery, prenatal and postnatal growth deficiency, serious or opportunistic infections, and malignancies.
An analysis is underway of adalimumab exposure in women with PsA – a patient subset that was added after the study started. But in the meantime, Chambers said, the 2019 research article is relevant to questions of drug safety across indications.
OTIS’s MothertoBaby studies are structured as prospective cohort studies. Chambers, a perinatal epidemiologist, is president of OTIS, which recruits women who have an exposure to the medication under study – at least one dose, for any length of time. And in most cases, it also recruits women with the underlying condition but no exposure and healthy women without the condition to represent the general population.
It’s the disease-matched comparison group that makes OTIS’s studies different from traditional pregnancy registries involving “a simple exposure series and outcomes that are described in the context of what you’d expect in the general population,” said Chambers, professor in the department of pediatrics, as well as family and preventative medicine, at UCSD and codirector of the Center for Better Beginnings at that university. “Many maternal conditions themselves [or their comorbidities] carry some risk of adverse outcomes in pregnancy.”
The OTIS studies typically involve at least 100 exposed pregnancies and a similar number of unexposed pregnancies; some have cohorts of 200-300.
The recently published study of adalimumab, for instance, included 257 women with exposure to the drug and 120 women in a disease comparison group with no exposure. In addition to finding no associations between drug exposure and adverse outcomes, the study found that women with RA or Crohn’s were at increased risk of preterm delivery, irrespective of adalimumab exposure.
“There’s insufficient [power with any of these numbers] to come to the conclusion that a drug is safe,” she said. “But what we have been able to say [through our studies] is that we’ve looked carefully at the whole array of outcomes … and we don’t see anything unusual. That early view can be reassuring” until large population-based studies or claims analyses become possible.
Sammaritano, also with Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, said that she does not recommend registry participation for patients who stop biologics at the diagnosis of pregnancy. Since “the start of IgG antibody transfer during pregnancy is about 16 weeks,” she worries that including these patients might lead to falsely reassuring findings. “We are most interested in [knowing the outcomes of] patients who must continue the drugs through pregnancy,” she said.
Chambers, however, said that in her view, placental transfer is not a requirement for a medication to have some effect on the outcome of pregnancy. “The outcome could be influenced by an effect of the medication that doesn’t require placental transfer or require placental transfer in large amounts,” she said. “So it’s relevant to examine exposures that have occurred only in the first trimester, and this is especially true for the outcome of major birth defects, most of which are initiated in the first trimester.”
The MotherToBaby studies typically include both early, short exposures and longer exposures, she said. “And certainly, duration of use is a factor that we do consider in looking at specific outcomes such as growth, preterm delivery, and risk of serious or opportunistic infections.”
(In the published study of adalimumab, 65.3% of women in the medication-exposed cohort used the medication in all three trimesters, 10.5% in the first and second trimesters, and 22.4% in the first trimester only.)
Women participating in the MotherToBaby studies complete two to four interviews during pregnancy and may be interviewed again after delivery. They are asked for their permission to share a copy of their medical records – and their baby’s medical records – and their babies receive a follow-up pediatric exam by a pediatrician with expertise in dysmorphology/genetics (who is blinded to exposure status), most commonly in the participant’s home. Providers are not asked to enter any data.
Eliza Chakravarty, MD, a rheumatologist with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City who treats patients with PsA who are pregnant or considering pregnancy, said that her referrals for research participation “have been mostly to MothertoBaby.”
“Most drug companies [in the autoimmune space] are now contracting with them [for their pregnancy exposure research],” she said. “I really like that it’s become so centralized.”
She tells patients that many questions can be answered through research, that their experience matters, and that “there are benefits” to the extra pediatric examination. “I give them the information and let them decide whether or not they want to call [MotherToBaby],” she said. “I don’t want to impose. I want to make them aware.”
Chambers emphasizes to patients and physicians that the studies are strictly observational and do not require any changes in personal or medical regimens. “When people hear the word ‘research’ they think of clinical trials. We’re saying, you and your provider do everything you normally would do, just let us observe what happens during your pregnancy.”
Physicians should assure patients, moreover, that “just because the drug is being studied doesn’t mean there’s a known risk or even a suspected risk,” she said.
The MotherToBaby studies receive funding from the pharmaceutical companies, which are required by the Food and Drug Administration to conduct pregnancy exposure registries for medications used during pregnancy or in women of reproductive age. OTIS has an independent advisory board, however, and independently analyzes and publishes its findings. Progress reports are shared with the pharmaceutical companies, and in turn, the FDA, Chambers said.
To refer patients for MotherToBaby studies, physicians can use an online referral form found on the MothertoBaby web site, a service of OTIS, or call the pregnancy studies team at 877-311-8972 to provide them with the patient’s name or number. Patients may also be given the number and advised to consider calling. MotherToBaby offers medication fact sheets that answer questions about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and runs a free and confidential teratogen counseling service: 866-626-6847.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.