A molecular signature response classifier to predict inadequate response to tumor necrosis factor-α Inhibitors: the NETWORK-004 Prospective Observational Study

Stanley Cohen, Alvin F. Wells, Jeffrey R. Curtis, Rajat Dhar, Theodore Mellors, Lixia Zhang, Johanna B. Withers, Alex Jones, Susan D. Ghiassian, Mengran Wang, Erin Connolly-Strong, Sarah Rapisardo, Zoran Gatalica, Dimitrios A. Pappas, Joel M. Kremer, Alif Saleh & Viatcheslav R. Akmaev

Rheumatol Ther 8, 1159–1176 (2021)


Objectives: Timely matching of patients to beneficial targeted therapy is an unmet need in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A molecular signature response classifier (MSRC) that predicts which patients with RA are unlikely to respond to tumor necrosis factor-α inhibitor (TNFi) therapy would have wide clinical utility.

Materials and Methods: The protein–protein interaction map specific to the rheumatoid arthritis pathophysiology and gene expression data in blood patient samples was used to discover a molecular signature of non-response to TNFi therapy. Inadequate response predictions were validated in blood samples from the CERTAIN cohort and a multicenter blinded prospective observational clinical study (NETWORK-004) among 391 targeted therapy-naïve and 113 TNFi-exposed patient samples. The primary endpoint evaluated the ability of the MSRC to identify patients who inadequately responded to TNFi therapy at 6 months according to ACR50. Additional endpoints evaluated the prediction of inadequate response at 3 and 6 months by ACR70, DAS28-CRP, and CDAI.

Results: The 23-feature molecular signature considers pathways upstream and downstream of TNFα involvement in RA pathophysiology. Predictive performance was consistent between the CERTAIN cohort and NETWORK-004 study. The NETWORK-004 study met primary and secondary endpoints. A molecular signature of non-response was detected in 45% of targeted therapy-naïve patients. The MSRC had an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.64 and patients were unlikely to adequately respond to TNFi therapy according to ACR50 at 6 months with an odds ratio of 4.1 (95% confidence interval 2.0–8.3, p value 0.0001). Odds ratios (3.4–8.8) were significant (p value < 0.01) for additional endpoints at 3 and 6 months, with AUC values up to 0.74. Among TNFi-exposed patients, the MSRC had an AUC of up to 0.83 and was associated with significant odds ratios of 3.3–26.6 by ACR, DAS28-CRP, and CDAI metrics.

Conclusion: The MSRC stratifies patients according to likelihood of inadequate response to TNFi therapy and provides patient-specific data to guide therapy choice in RA for targeted therapy-naïve and TNFi-exposed patients.

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