Short Steroid Taper Tested With Tocilizumab for GCA


A combination of tocilizumab (Actemra) and 8 weeks of tapering prednisone was effective for inducing and maintaining disease remission in adults with giant cell arteritis (GCA).


  • In a single-center, single-arm, open-label pilot study, 30 adults (mean age, 73.7 years) with GCA received 162 mg of tocilizumab as a subcutaneous injection once a week for 52 weeks, plus prednisone starting between 20 mg and 60 mg with a prespecified 8-week taper off the glucocorticoid.

  • Patients had to be at least 50 years of age and could have either new-onset (diagnosis within 6 weeks of baseline) or relapsing disease (diagnosis > 6 weeks from baseline).

  • The primary endpoint was sustained, prednisone-free remission at 52 weeks, defined by an erythrocyte sedimentation rate of less than 40 mm/h, C-reactive protein level less than 10 mg/L, and adherence to the prednisone taper; secondary endpoints included the proportions of patients in remission and relapse, cumulative prednisone dose, and glucocorticoid toxicity.


  • At 52 weeks, 23 patients (77%) met the criteria for sustained remission after weaning off prednisone within 8 weeks of starting tocilizumab; seven relapsed after a mean of 15.8 weeks.

  • Of the patients who relapsed, six underwent a second prednisone taper for 8 weeks with a mean initial daily dose of 32.1 mg, four regained and maintained remission, and two experienced a second relapse and withdrew from the study.

  • The mean cumulative prednisone dose at week 52 was 1051.5 mg for responders and 1673.1 mg for nonresponders.

  • All 30 patients had at least one adverse event; four patients had a serious adverse event likely related to tocilizumab, prednisone, or both.


Studies such as this “are highly valuable as proof of concept, but of course cannot be definitive guides to treatment decisions without a comparator group,” according to authors of an editorial accompanying the study.


First author Sebastian Unizony, MD, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues reported their work online November 2 in The Lancet Rheumatology.


The small size and open-label design with no control group were limiting factors; more research is needed to confirm the findings before this treatment strategy can be recommended for clinical practice.


The study was funded by Genentech. Two authors report financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies outside of this report.

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