What is the issue?
A kidney transplant is the best treatment for many people who have severe kidney disease to allow patients to return to work and feel better. Patients who receive a kidney transplant receive drugs to prevent their own body from rejecting the transplant - the aim of treatment is to prolong the function of the kidney transplant while minimising common long-term side effects of treatment such as cancer, infection, and diabetes. For some patients who have a much higher risk of rejection, additional treatment is given at the time of the operation (which may lower the body's ability to attack the kidney transplant and increase kidney function but can increase the risk of complications such as infection and cancer).
What did we do?
We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant's Specialised Register to 29 August 2016 for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies with placebo, no treatment, or other antibody therapy in adults and children who had received a kidney transplant.
What did we find?
We identified 99 studies (265 records; 8956 participants; 33 with contemporary agents). From the available studies in this area, an antibody against human immune cells (ATG) reduces the chances of a patient having a kidney rejection by one-third, but it is uncertain whether this prolongs the function of the kidney transplant or survival for the patient. ATG significantly increases viral infections including cytomegalovirus. In addition, the effects of ATG treatment on cancer are not well understood. Alemtuzumab is another treatment which has been compared to ATG in patients who have received less or no steroid therapy as part of their transplant treatment. Treatment with alemtuzumab with lower steroid doses or no steroid treatment at all may lower a patient's risk of kidney rejection within a year after transplantation when compared to ATG but overall the information about treatment benefits and harms of alemtuzumab in many clinical situations are not certain. This means we are not confident about the effects of alemtuzumab on kidney function, patient survival or treatment side-effects.
Overall the available research on antibody treatment for kidney transplantation is limited when clinicians and patients make joint decisions about antibody therapy at the time of a kidney transplant because of the uncertain long term benefits and hazards of these treatments.
ATG reduces acute rejection but has uncertain effects on death, graft survival, malignancy and NODAT, and increases CMV infection, thrombocytopenia and leucopenia. Given a 45% acute rejection risk without ATG induction, seven patients would need treatment to prevent one having rejection, while incurring an additional patient experiencing CMV disease for every 12 treated. Excluding non-CNI studies, the risk of rejection was 37% without induction with six patients needing treatment to prevent one having rejection.
In the context of steroid minimisation, alemtuzumab prevents acute rejection at 1 year compared to ATG. Eleven patients would require treatment with alemtuzumab to prevent 1 having rejection, assuming a 21% rejection risk with ATG.
Triple maintenance without induction therapy compared to alemtuzumab combined with ESW had similar rates of acute rejection but adverse effects including NODAT were poorly documented. Alemtuzumab plus steroid withdrawal would cause one additional patient experiencing CMV disease for every six patients treated compared to no induction and triple maintenance, in the absence of any clinical benefit. Overall, ATG and alemtuzumab decrease acute rejection at a cost of increased CMV disease while patient-centred outcomes (reduced death or lower toxicity) do not appear to be improved.
Prolonging kidney transplant survival is an important clinical priority. Induction immunosuppression with antibody therapy is recommended at transplantation and non-depleting interleukin-2 receptor monoclonal antibodies (IL2Ra) are considered first line. It is suggested that recipients at high risk of rejection should receive lymphocyte-depleting antibodies but the relative benefits and harms of the available agents are uncertain.
We aimed to: evaluate the relative and absolute effects of different antibody preparations (except IL2Ra) when used as induction therapy in kidney transplant recipients; determine how the benefits and adverse events vary for each antibody preparation; determine how the benefits and harms vary for different formulations of antibody preparation; and determine whether the benefits and harms vary in specific subgroups of recipients (e.g. children and sensitised recipients).
We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant's Specialised Register to 29 August 2016 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies with placebo, no treatment, or other antibody therapy in adults and children who had received a kidney transplant.
Two authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias. Dichotomous outcomes are reported as relative risk (RR) and continuous outcomes as mean difference (MD) together with their 95% confidence intervals (CI).
We included 99 studies (269 records; 8956 participants; 33 with contemporary agents). Methodology was incompletely reported in most studies leading to lower confidence in the treatment estimates.
Antithymocyte globulin (ATG) prevented acute graft rejection (17 studies: RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.78). The benefits of ATG on graft rejection were similar when used with (12 studies: RR 0.61, 0.49 to 0.76) or without (5 studies: RR 0.65, 0.43 to 0.98) calcineurin inhibitor (CNI) treatment. ATG (with CNI therapy) had uncertain effects on death (3 to 6 months, 3 studies: RR 0.41, 0.13 to 1.22; 1 to 2 years, 5 studies: RR 0.75, 0.27 to 2.06; 5 years, 2 studies: RR 0.94, 0.11 to 7.81) and graft loss (3 to 6 months, 4 studies: RR 0.60, 0.34 to 1.05; 1 to 2 years, 3 studies: RR 0.65, 0.36 to 1.19). The effect of ATG on death-censored graft loss was uncertain at 1 to 2 years and 5 years. In non-CNI studies, ATG had uncertain effects on death but reduced death-censored graft loss (6 studies: RR 0.55, 0.38 to 0.78). When CNI and older non-CNI studies were combined, a benefit was seen with ATG at 1 to 2 years for both all-cause graft loss (7 studies: RR 0.71, 0.53 to 0.95) and death-censored graft loss (8 studies: RR 0.55, 0.39 to 0.77) but not sustained longer term. ATG increased cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection (6 studies: RR 1.55, 1.24 to 1.95), leucopenia (4 studies: RR 3.86, 2.79 to 5.34) and thrombocytopenia (4 studies: RR 2.41, 1.61 to 3.61) but had uncertain effects on delayed graft function, malignancy, post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), and new onset diabetes after transplantation (NODAT).
Alemtuzumab was compared to ATG in six studies (446 patients) with early steroid withdrawal (ESW) or steroid minimisation. Alemtuzumab plus steroid minimisation reduced acute rejection compared to ATG at one year (4 studies: RR 0.57, 0.35 to 0.93). In the two studies with ESW only in the alemtuzumab arm, the effect of alemtuzumab on acute rejection at 1 year was uncertain compared to ATG (RR 1.27, 0.50 to 3.19). Alemtuzumab had uncertain effects on death (1 year, 2 studies: RR 0.39, 0.06 to 2.42; 2 to 3 years, 3 studies: RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.15 to 2.95), graft loss (1 year, 2 studies: RR 0.39, 0.13 to 1.30; 2 to 3 years, 3 studies: RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.47 to 2.06), and death-censored graft loss (1 year, 2 studies: RR 0.38, 0.08 to 1.81; 2 to 3 years, 3 studies: RR 2.45, 95% CI 0.67 to 8.97) compared to ATG. Creatinine clearance was lower with alemtuzumab plus ESW at 6 months (2 studies: MD -13.35 mL/min, -23.91 to -2.80) and 2 years (2 studies: MD -12.86 mL/min, -23.73 to -2.00) compared to ATG plus triple maintenance. Across all 6 studies, the effect of alemtuzumab versus ATG was uncertain on all-cause infection, CMV infection, BK virus infection, malignancy, and PTLD. The effect of alemtuzumab with steroid minimisation on NODAT was uncertain, compared to ATG with steroid maintenance.
Alemtuzumab plus ESW compared with triple maintenance without induction therapy had uncertain effects on death and all-cause graft loss at 1 year, acute rejection at 6 months and 1 year. CMV infection was increased (2 studies: RR 2.28, 1.18 to 4.40). Treatment effects were uncertain for NODAT, thrombocytopenia, and malignancy or PTLD.
Rituximab had uncertain effects on death, graft loss, acute rejection and all other adverse outcomes compared to placebo.