Glucocorticoids remain the standard approach to initial systemic management of acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD). For patients refractory to steroids, antithymocyte globulin (ATG) is frequently used as salvage therapy. We decided to test whether the combination of corticosteroids and equine ATG would improve the outcome of initial management of aGVHD, especially in high-risk patients such as recipients of unrelated donor (URD) transplants. One hundred patients with grade II to IV aGVHD having undergone a related or URD marrow transplant were enrolled in the study. Of the patients, 46 were randomly assigned to therapy with prednisone (60 mg/m2 per day x 7 days) and 50 received ATG/prednisone (15 mg/kg ATG bid plus 20 mg/m2 prednisone bid x 5 days, each followed by an 8-week prednisone taper). An intent-to-treat analysis of the overall response at day 42 revealed equivalent complete plus partial response rates of 76% in both the prednisone and ATG/prednisone therapy groups (P > .80). In univariate analysis, patient age, donor type, site of involvement, or aGVHD stage did not influence overall response to therapy (all P > .2). When treatment arms were studied separately, no single clinical feature predicted outcome in either group. Complications were more frequent in the ATG/prednisone arm; patients experienced more infections with cytomegalovirus (44% versus 22%; P = .02) and more frequent pneumonitis, both infectious and noninfectious (50% versus 24%; P < .01). Epstein-Barr virus lymphoproliferative disease was uncommon (4 cases) and comparable in both arms (P = .35). There was no significant difference in survival at day 100, 6 months, and 2 years between the 2 treatment arms. The more intensive immunosuppressive combination of ATG/prednisone failed to improve control of aGVHD and may have affected survival by causing more infectious complications. Combination therapy with ATG should thus be reserved as second-line therapy in the management of aGVHD.
- Acute graft-versus-host disease
- Antithymocyte globulin