Morphea-like skin reactions in patients treated with the cathepsin K inhibitor balicatib

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In a multicenter clinical trial in North America and Europe that tested the cathepsin K (catK) inhibitor balicatib for the treatment of osteoporosis, several patients developed hardening of the skin.


We sought to characterize these observed adverse events.


Patients with skin hardening were examined by a local dermatologist. All of those patients except one had at least one biopsy specimen taken from affected skin, which was read by local and two central dermatopathologists. Workup was directed for consideration of systemic scleroderma.


Nine patients of 709 treated with balicatib developed skin hardening and were given a diagnosis of morphea-like skin changes. No such events were observed in patients taking placebo or the lowest balicatib dose. After discontinuation of balicatib, skin changes resolved completely in 8 and partially in one patient.


Each patient was seen by a different dermatologist in 6 different countries.


These observations are likely dose-related adverse effects of balicatib. Although catK was originally thought to be expressed only in osteoclasts, it has more recently also been found in lung and dermal fibroblasts and been implicated in the degradation of the extracellular matrix in the lung and the skin. It is therefore plausible that the observed dermal fibrosis in balicatib-treated patients is a result of impaired degradation of extracellular matrix proteins and may represent a class effect of catK inhibitors. We recommend that further exploration of catK inhibition for the treatment of osteoporosis or cancer should include monitoring for similar adverse effects.

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