Clinician Article

Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  • Janjua S
  • Fortescue R
  • Poole P
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 May 1;5(5):CD002309. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002309.pub6. (Review)
PMID: 32356609
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  • Family Medicine (FM)/General Practice (GP)
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 6/7
  • General Internal Medicine-Primary Care(US)
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 6/7
  • Internal Medicine
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7
  • Respirology/Pulmonology
    Relevance - 5/7
    Newsworthiness - 4/7


BACKGROUND: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is associated with cough, sputum production or dyspnoea, and a reduction in lung function, quality of life, and life expectancy. Apart from smoking cessation, no other treatments that slow lung function decline are available. Roflumilast and cilomilast are oral phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitors proposed to reduce the airway inflammation and bronchoconstriction seen in COPD. This Cochrane Review was first published in 2011, and was updated in 2017 and 2020.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the efficacy and safety of oral PDE4 inhibitors for management of stable COPD.

SEARCH METHODS: We identified randomised controlled trials (RCTs) from the Cochrane Airways Trials Register (date of last search 9 March 2020). We found other trials at web-based clinical trials registers.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included RCTs if they compared oral PDE4 inhibitors with placebo in people with COPD. We allowed co-administration of standard COPD therapy.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard Cochrane methods. Two independent review authors selected trials for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. We resolved discrepancies by involving a third review author. We assessed our confidence in the evidence by using GRADE recommendations. Primary outcomes were change in lung function (minimally important difference (MID) = 100 mL) and quality of life (scale 0 to 100; higher score indicates more limitations).

MAIN RESULTS: We found 42 RCTs that met the inclusion criteria and were included in the analyses for roflumilast (28 trials with 18,046 participants) or cilomilast (14 trials with 6457 participants) or tetomilast (1 trial with 84 participants), with a duration between six weeks and one year or longer. These trials included people across international study centres with moderate to very severe COPD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) grades II to IV), with mean age of 64 years. We judged risks of selection bias, performance bias, and attrition bias as low overall amongst the 39 published and unpublished trials. Lung function Treatment with a PDE4 inhibitor was associated with a small, clinically insignificant improvement in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) over a mean of 40 weeks compared with placebo (mean difference (MD) 49.33 mL, 95% confidence interval (CI) 44.17 to 54.49; participants = 20,815; studies = 29; moderate-certainty evidence). Forced vital capacity (FVC) and peak expiratory flow (PEF) were also improved over 40 weeks (FVC: MD 86.98 mL, 95% CI 74.65 to 99.31; participants = 22,108; studies = 17; high-certainty evidence; PEF: MD 6.54 L/min, 95% CI 3.95 to 9.13; participants = 4245; studies = 6; low-certainty evidence). Quality of life Trials reported improvements in quality of life over a mean of 33 weeks (St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) MD -1.06 units, 95% CI -1.68 to -0.43; participants = 7645 ; moderate-certainty evidence). Incidence of exacerbations Treatment with a PDE4 inhibitor was associated with a reduced likelihood of COPD exacerbation over a mean of 40 weeks (odds ratio (OR) 0.78, 95% CI 0.73 to 0.84; participants = 20,382; studies = 27; high-certainty evidence), that is, for every 100 people treated with PDE4 inhibitors, five more remained exacerbation-free during the study period compared with those given placebo (number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) 20, 95% CI 16 to 27). No change in COPD-related symptoms nor in exercise tolerance was found. Adverse events More participants in the treatment groups experienced an adverse effect compared with control participants over a mean of 39 weeks (OR 1.30, 95% CI 1.22 to 1.38; participants = 21,310; studies = 30; low-certainty evidence). Participants experienced a range of gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, or dyspepsia. Diarrhoea was more commonly reported with PDE4 inhibitor treatment (OR 3.20, 95% CI 2.74 to 3.50; participants = 20,623; studies = 29; high-certainty evidence), that is, for every 100 people treated with PDE4 inhibitors, seven more suffered from diarrhoea during the study period compared with those given placebo (number needed to treat for an additional harmful outcome (NNTH) 15, 95% CI 13 to 17). The likelihood of psychiatric adverse events was higher with roflumilast 500 µg than with placebo (OR 2.13, 95% CI 1.79 to 2.54; participants = 11,168; studies = 15 (COPD pool data); moderate-certainty evidence). Roflumilast in particular was associated with weight loss during the trial period and with an increase in insomnia and depressive mood symptoms. Participants treated with PDE4 inhibitors were more likely to withdraw from trial participation; on average, 14% in the treatment groups withdrew compared with 8% in the control groups. Mortality No effect on mortality was found (OR 0.98, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.24; participants = 19,786; studies = 27; moderate-certainty evidence), although mortality was a rare event during these trials.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: For this current update, five new studies from the 2020 search contributed to existing findings but made little impact on outcomes described in earlier versions of this review. PDE4 inhibitors offered a small benefit over placebo in improving lung function and reducing the likelihood of exacerbations in people with COPD; however, they had little impact on quality of life or on symptoms. Gastrointestinal adverse effects and weight loss were common, and the likelihood of psychiatric symptoms was higher, with roflumilast 500 µg. The findings of this review provide cautious support for the use of PDE4 inhibitors in COPD. In accordance with GOLD 2020 guidelines, they may have a place as add-on therapy for a subgroup of people with persistent symptoms or exacerbations despite optimal COPD management (e.g. people whose condition is not controlled by fixed-dose long-acting beta2-agonist (LABA) and inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) combinations). More longer-term trials are needed to determine whether or not PDE4 inhibitors modify FEV1 decline, hospitalisation, or mortality in COPD.

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