News Brief
February 19, 2015

Eczema Medication Unlikely to Increase Risk of Cancer in Children, Penn Team Finds

Study Following Large Cohort of Children for Ten Years Part of Post-Marketing Requirement

PHILADELPHIA — The topical eczema medicine pimecrolimus appears unlikely to be associated with an increased risk of cancer in children, based on a group of children who were followed for 10 years, according to study published online this week in JAMA Dermatology.

The Pediatric Eczema Elective Registry (PEER) study has enrolled 7,457 children (26,792 person-years) since 2004. The children used an average of 793 grams of pimecrolimus when enrolled in the study. As of May 2014, five malignancies were reported: two leukemias, one osteosarcoma and two lymphomas. No skin cancers were reported, and these findings on incidence (a measure of risk) of cancer overall were not statistically significant, according to first author David J. Margolis, MD, PhD, a professor of Dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and coauthors. 

“Based on more than 25,000 person-years of follow-up, it seems unlikely that topical pimecrolimus as it was generally used in the PEER cohort to treat eczema is associated with an increased risk of malignancy,” the authors conclude.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union Medicines Agency have approved few topical agents to treat eczema in children, but in 2001 the FDA and the European Medicines Agency in 2002 approved pimecrolimus to treat eczema in children at least 2 years old. A “black box warning” describes the potential risk of malignancy associated with the topical use of pimecrolimus, a topical calcineurin inhibitor. Oral calcineurin inhibitors were originally approved as immunosuppressive treatments for patients after solid organ transplant to prevent rejection although these treatments are associated with an increased risk of cancer, especially skin cancer and lymphoma.

The PEER study was started in 2004 as part of the post-marketing commitments for the approval of pimecrolimus as an eczema medication for children. Eczema is a common and chronic inflammatory skin condition that most frequently occurs in the first decade of life.

Editor’s Note: This study and the PEER study were funded by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International through a grant to the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, please see the JAMA release.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.


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