BACKGROUND: Steroid-dependent nephrotic syndrome (SDNS) carries a high risk of toxicity from steroids or steroid-sparing agents. This open-label, randomized controlled trial was designed to test whether the monoclonal antibody rituximab is non-inferior to steroids in maintaining remission in juvenile forms of SDNS and how long remission may last (EudraCT:2008-004486-26).
METHODS: We enrolled 30 children 4-15 years who had developed SDNS 6-12 months before and were maintained in remission with low prednisone doses (0.1-0.4 mg/Kg/day). Participants were randomized following a non-inferiority design to continue prednisone alone (n 15, controls) or to add a single intravenous infusion of rituximab (375 mg/m2, n 15 intervention). Prednisone was tapered in both arms after 1 month. Children assigned to the control arm were allowed to receive rituximab to treat disease relapse.
RESULTS: Proteinuria increased at 3 months in the prednisone group (from 0.14 to 1.5 g/day) (p < 0.001) and remained unchanged in the rituximab group (0.14 g/day). Fourteen children in the control arm relapsed within 6 months. Thirteen children assigned to rituximab (87%) were still in remission at 1 year and 8 (53%) at 4 years. Responses were similar in children of the control group who received rituximab to treat disease relapse. We did not record significant adverse events.
CONCLUSIONS: Rituximab was non-inferior to steroids for the treatment of juvenile SDNS. One in two children remains in remission at 4 years following a single infusion of rituximab, without significant adverse events. Further studies are needed to clarify the superiority of rituximab over low-dose corticosteroid as a treatment of SDNS.