Peer-Reviewed Publication

A structured review of opportunistic infections in JAK inhibitor treatment of RA

Opportunistic infections associated with Janus kinase inhibitor treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: A structured literature review

Kevin Winthrop , John Isaacs , Leonard Calabrese , Deepali Mittal , Supriya Desai , Jane Barry , Sander Strengholt , James Galloway


The availability of Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors has transformed the management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), helping patients achieve clinical remission. However, the emergence of opportunistic infections (OIs) associated with the use of JAK inhibitors has been reported. This structured literature review was conducted to summarize reports of OIs associated with JAK inhibitor treatment for RA in clinical trials.


Structured searches were performed in MEDLINE® and Embase® to identify relevant clinical trial data through March 2021. Bibliographic searches of recent reviews were also conducted, and gray literature searches were used to supplement key gap areas. Publications were screened, extracted, and quality assessed. Data were narratively synthesized.


Following screening, 105 publications describing 62 unique clinical trials reporting the rates of OIs in RA patients treated with JAK inhibitors were included. Overall, the highest exposure-adjusted incidence rate was reported for herpes zoster (HZ) infection (any form), followed by OI (any) and tuberculosis based on limited data from clinical trials with approved doses of JAK inhibitors. Lack of head-to-head trials and differences in trial design preclude direct comparison across JAK inhibitors. Higher rates of OIs were noted in the Asian and Australian populations compared with the global population. Higher rates of OIs were also noted with increasing dose of JAK inhibitors in most clinical trial data.


HZ was the most common OI reported among RA patients using all currently approved JAK inhibitors in clinical trials, although tuberculosis and other OIs were also reported. More long-term safety studies in the real-world setting are needed to compare the risk of OIs between various JAK inhibitors.


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