Effectiveness of subcutaneous tocilizumab in neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorders

Itay Lotan*, Robert W. Charlson, Lana Zhovtis Ryerson, Michael Levy, Ilya Kister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Tocilizumab (TCZ), a humanized monoclonal antibody against the interleukin-6 receptor, is approved for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and several other immune-mediated disorders. Off-label use of the intravenous formulation of tocilizumab for Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder (NMOSD) decreased relapse rates in two small case series. However, treatment protocol that requires frequent intravenous infusions may adversely affect adherence to therapy, especially in the more disabled patients, thereby reducing effectiveness. A subcutaneous formulation of tocilizumab was shown to be noninferior to the IV formulation for approved rheumatologic diseases. The effectiveness of subcutaneous TCZ for NMOSD is unknown. Methods: We retrospectively reviewed clinical, radiological and serological data on all NMOSD patients who received subcutaneous TCZ in two tertiary referral centers between 2014–2019. Results: Twelve NMOSD patients who received at least 6 months of subcutaneous TCZ were identified. Eleven were female; mean age was 46.9 ± 14.5 years and mean disease duration was 6.6 ± 4.6 years. Seven patients were seropositive for AQP-4 antibodies, two – for MOG-IgG antibodies, and three were doubly seronegative. During subcutaneous TCZ treatment, eight patients (66.6%) were relapse-free, one patient (8.3%) experienced 1 relapse, two patients (16.6%) - 2 relapses, and one patient (8.3%) - 3 relapses. The median relapse rate within 1 year after starting subcutaneous TCZ - 0 (interquartile range =1.75–0) - was significantly lower than in the year prior to treatment initiation (2, interquartile range = 4.0–0.25; p = 0.04). Overall, the annual relapse rate (ARR) decreased from a median of 2 (interquartile range = 5.75–1.29) prior to subcutaneous TCZ to 0 (interquartile range= = 1.0–0) on treatment (p = 0.0015). One TCZ-treated patient died following a severe myelitis attack. Conclusions: Effectiveness of subcutaneous TCZ in NMOSD appears to be similar to that reported for the IV formulation and has an advantage of at-home administration. Prospective, comparative studies of subcutaneous TCZ for NMOSD are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101920
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Effectiveness
  • Observational study
  • Subcutaneous
  • Tocilizumab


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