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Indirect Comparison of Glucocorticoid-Sparing Agents for Remission Maintenance in Giant Cell Arteritis: A Network Meta-analysis



      To compare and rank the effect of glucocorticoid-sparing agents in giant cell arteritis (GCA), for which several drugs have been evaluated but with a benefit-risk balance that remains uncertain.


      The MEDLINE and Clinical Trials databases were searched up to November 2021; all randomized controlled trials investigating glucocorticoids in GCA were included. The glucocorticoid regimen was dichotomized into short (≤6 months) or prolonged (>6 months) use. Risk of relapse and safety were estimated using network meta-analysis with frequentist random effects models.


      Of the 96 records screened, 8 trials were included (572 patients). The trials compared glucocorticoids and a sparing agent: tocilizumab (2 trials), oral methotrexate (3 trials), infliximab (1 trial), etanercept (1 trial), and adalimumab (1 trial). The pooled prevalence of GCA relapse was 52.6% (95% CI, 38.1 to 66.9). The risk of relapse was significantly lower with tocilizumab compared with methotrexate (relative risk [RR], 0.41; 95% CI, 0.17 to 0.97) and prolonged (RR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.20 to 0.83) and short (RR, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.16 to 0.66) glucocorticoid use. The risk of relapse was not significantly different with methotrexate compared with short (RR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.48 to 1.31) and prolonged (RR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.31 to 2.89) glucocorticoid use. The frequency of serious adverse events and serious infection was comparable between the different drugs. The certainty of the evidence was low to very low.


      This meta-analysis suggests that tocilizumab may be superior to other sparing agents to prevent GCA relapse, but with a low to very low certainty of evidence, and that safety is comparable to the other drugs.


      The protocol of the meta-analysis is registered in the international prospective register of systematic reviews PROSPERO (; registration CRD42020112387).

      Abbreviations and Acronyms:

      GCA (giant cell arteritis), RCT (randomized controlled trial), RR (relative risk), SAE (serious adverse event)
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