To determine the efficacy and tolerability of topical pimecrolimus and tacrolimus compared with other treatments for atopic dermatitis.
Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Electronic searches of the Cochrane Library, Medline, and Embase.
Randomised controlled trials of topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus reporting efficacy outcomes or tolerability.
4186 of 6897 participants in 25 randomised controlled trials received pimecrolimus or tacrolimus. Both drugs were significantly more effective than a vehicle control. Tacrolimus 0.1% was as effective as potent topical corticosteroids at three weeks and more effective than combined treatment with hydrocortisone butyrate 0.1% (potent used on trunk) plus hydrocortisone acetate 1% (weak used on face) at 12 weeks (number needed to treat (NNT) = 6). Tacrolimus 0.1% was also more effective than hydrocortisone acetate 1% (NNT = 4). In comparison, tacrolimus 0.03% was more effective than hydrocortisone acetate 1% (NNT = 5) but less effective than hydrocortisone butyrate 0.1% (NNT = -8). Direct comparisons of tacrolimus 0.03% and tacrolimus 0.1% consistently favoured the higher strength formulation, but efficacy differed significantly between the two strengths only after 12 weeks' treatment (rate ratio 0.80, 95% confidence interval 0.65 to 0.99). Pimecrolimus was far less effective than betamethasone valerate 0.1% (NNT = -3 at three weeks). Pimecrolimus and tacrolimus caused significantly more skin burning than topical corticosteroids. Rates of skin infections in any of the comparisons did not differ.
Both topical pimecrolimus and topical tacrolimus are more effective than placebo treatments for atopic dermatitis, but in the absence of studies that show long term safety gains, any advantage over topical corticosteroids is unclear. Topical tacrolimus is similar to potent topical corticosteroids and may have a place for long term use in patients with resistant atopic dermatitis on sites where side effects from topical corticosteroids might develop quickly. In the absence of key comparisons with mild corticosteroids, the clinical need for topical pimecrolimus is unclear. The usefulness of either treatment in patients who have failed to respond adequately to topical corticosteroids is also unclear.