Background: Severe acute exacerbations (AE) of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are medically untreatable and often fatal within days. Recent evidence suggests autoantibodies may be involved in IPF progression. Autoantibody-mediated lung diseases are typically refractory to glucocorticoids and nonspecific medications, but frequently respond to focused autoantibody reduction treatments. We conducted a pilot trial to test the hypothesis that autoantibody-targeted therapies may also benefit AE-IPF patients. Methods: Eleven (11) critically-ill AE-IPF patients with no evidence of conventional autoimmune diseases were treated with therapeutic plasma exchanges (TPE) and rituximab, supplemented in later cases with intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). Plasma anti-epithelial (HEp-2) autoantibodies and matrix metalloproteinase-7 (MMP7) were evaluated by indirect immunofluorescence and ELISA, respectively. Outcomes among the trial subjects were compared to those of 20 historical control AE-IPF patients treated with conventional glucocorticoid therapy prior to this experimental trial. Results: Nine (9) trial subjects (82%) had improvements of pulmonary gas exchange after treatment, compared to one (5%) historical control. Two of the three trial subjects who relapsed after only five TPE responded again with additional TPE. The three latest subjects who responded to an augmented regimen of nine TPE plus rituximab plus IVIG have had sustained responses without relapses after 96-to-237 days. Anti-HEp-2 autoantibodies were present in trial subjects prior to therapy, and were reduced by TPE among those who responded to treatment. Conversely, plasma MMP7 levels were not systematically affected by therapy nor correlated with clinical responses. One-year survival of trial subjects was 46+15% vs. 0% among historical controls. No serious adverse events were attributable to the experimental medications. Conclusion: This pilot trial indicates specific treatments that reduce autoantibodies might benefit some severely-ill AE-IPF patients. These findings have potential implications regarding mechanisms of IPF progression, and justify considerations for incremental trials of autoantibody-targeted therapies in AE-IPF patients. Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01266317.
Donahoe, M., Valentine, V. G., Chien, N., Gibson, K. F., Raval, J. S., Saul, M., … Duncan, S. R. (2015). Autoantibody-targeted treatments for acute exacerbations of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127771