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1.  Rheumatoid arthritis 
Clinical Evidence  2007;2007:1124.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually starts as a symmetrical polyarthritis, and its course is marked by flares and remissions. The aims of treatment are to relieve pain and swelling, and to improve function. In addition, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may reduce disease progression.
Methods and outcomes
We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of drug treatments in people with rheumatoid arthritis who have not previously received any disease-modifying antirheumatic drug treatment? How do different drug treatments compare in people with rheumatoid arthritis who have either not responded to or are intolerant of first-line disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library and other important databases up to June 2005 (BMJ Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
We found 62 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: adalimumab, anakinra, antimalarial drugs, azathioprine, ciclosporin, corticosteroids, cyclophosphamide, etanercept, infliximab plus methotrexate, leflunomide, methotrexate (alone; or plus sulfasalazine plus hydroxychloroquine), oral gold, parenteral gold, penicillamine, sulfasalazine.
Key Points
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that mainly affects the peripheral joints and surrounding tissue. It usually starts as a symmetrical polyarthritis, and its course is marked by flares and remissions.The aims of treatment are to relieve pain and swelling, and to improve function. In addition, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may reduce disease progression.
The DMARD methotrexate is widely used as first-line treatment in people with rheumatoid arthritis because of consensus about its effectiveness in practice. Sulfasalazine and combined treatment with methotrexate and sulfasalazine are as effective as methotrexate in improving pain, joint swelling, and function in people with early rheumatoid arthritis who have not previously received DMARDs. Antimalarials may improve symptoms and function in DMARD-naïve people, and are reasonably well tolerated, but radiological evidence of erosion is more marked with antimalarials than with sulfasalazine.
There is a variety of DMARDs available for second-line treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and we found no clear evidence that one is superior. Methotrexate, sulfasalazine, penicillamine , and leflunomide cause similar improvements in symptoms and function when given to people as second-line DMARD treatment, although methotrexate causes fewer adverse effects.The combination of methotrexate plus sulfasalazine plus hydroxychloroquine is more effective in reducing measures of disease activity in people receiving second-line treatment than any of the drugs used alone. Adding the cytokine inhibitors infliximab or etanercept to methotrexate is more effective than using methotrexate alone.Although antimalarials and oral gold seem to improve clinical disease activity when given as second-line treatment, they are not as effective as methotrexate or sulfasalazine. Although parenteral gold is more effective than oral gold, it leads to higher levels of toxicity than most of the other commonly used DMARDs. Ciclosporin offers short-term control of rheumatoid arthritis when used as second-line treatment, but is associated with nephrotoxicity.We don′t know whether cyclophosphamide is as effective as other DMARDs for second-line treatment.Cytokine inhibitors may offer an alternative to traditional DMARDs for second line treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but more research is needed. Etanercept may be as effective as methotrexate in improving symptoms, function, and radiological evidence of progression, but more evidence for its effect is needed Azathioprine is less effective and is less well tolerated than methotrexate.We don't know whether anakinra or adalimumab are as effective as other DMARDs for second-line treatment.Although widely used for the initial short-term relief of clinical disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis, we don't know how corticosteroids compare with other drugs for first or second-line treatment.
PMCID: PMC2943775  PMID: 19454108
2.  EULAR recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis with synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs: 2013 update 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2013;73(3):492-509.
In this article, the 2010 European League against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (sDMARDs and bDMARDs, respectively) have been updated. The 2013 update has been developed by an international task force, which based its decisions mostly on evidence from three systematic literature reviews (one each on sDMARDs, including glucocorticoids, bDMARDs and safety aspects of DMARD therapy); treatment strategies were also covered by the searches. The evidence presented was discussed and summarised by the experts in the course of a consensus finding and voting process. Levels of evidence and grades of recommendations were derived and levels of agreement (strengths of recommendations) were determined. Fourteen recommendations were developed (instead of 15 in 2010). Some of the 2010 recommendations were deleted, and others were amended or split. The recommendations cover general aspects, such as attainment of remission or low disease activity using a treat-to-target approach, and the need for shared decision-making between rheumatologists and patients. The more specific items relate to starting DMARD therapy using a conventional sDMARD (csDMARD) strategy in combination with glucocorticoids, followed by the addition of a bDMARD or another csDMARD strategy (after stratification by presence or absence of adverse risk factors) if the treatment target is not reached within 6 months (or improvement not seen at 3 months). Tumour necrosis factor inhibitors (adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, etanercept, golimumab, infliximab, biosimilars), abatacept, tocilizumab and, under certain circumstances, rituximab are essentially considered to have similar efficacy and safety. If the first bDMARD strategy fails, any other bDMARD may be used. The recommendations also address tofacitinib as a targeted sDMARD (tsDMARD), which is recommended, where licensed, after use of at least one bDMARD. Biosimilars are also addressed. These recommendations are intended to inform rheumatologists, patients, national rheumatology societies and other stakeholders about EULAR's most recent consensus on the management of RA with sDMARDs, glucocorticoids and bDMARDs. They are based on evidence and expert opinion and intended to improve outcome in patients with RA.
PMCID: PMC3933074  PMID: 24161836
Rheumatoid Arthritis; DMARDs (synthetic); DMARDs (biologic); Treatment; Early Rheumatoid Arthritis
3.  Treatment continuation in patients receiving biological agents or conventional DMARD therapy 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2005;64(9):1274-1279.
Objective: To compare drug continuation rates in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who start on a biological agent and in a control group of patients with a change in disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) treatment after previous DMARD failure.
Methods: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis enrolled in the German biologics register between May 2001 and September 2003 were included in the study. Data were available for 511 patients treated with etanercept, 343 with infliximab, 70 with anakinra, and 599 controls. Propensity scores were used to select a subsample of patients from the control group who were likely to be treated with biological agents because of their disease severity, as well as comparable infliximab and etanercept cases.
Results: Treatment continuation after 12 months was similar for etanercept (68.6% (95% confidence interval, 62% to 75%)) and infliximab (65.4% (58% to 73%)) but lower for anakinra (59% (41% to 77%)). Treatment continuation was more likely for patients on combinations of biological agents and DMARDs than for those on infliximab or etanercept alone. Patients treated with biological agents were more severely ill than those in the control group and had more previous DMARD failures. After adjustment for baseline differences, the continuation rates were higher in patients treated with biological agents than in comparable control patients treated with leflunomide or leflunomide/methotrexate.
Conclusions: Treatment continuation of biological agents in clinical practice is less likely than in randomised clinical trials but more likely than in comparable controls treated with conventional DMARDs.
PMCID: PMC1755655  PMID: 15708884
4.  Effect of Combination Therapy on Joint Destruction in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Network Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e106408.
Despite significant cost differences, the comparative effect of combination treatments of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) with and without biologic agents has rarely been examined. Thus we performed a network meta-analysis on the effect of combination therapies on progression of radiographic joint erosions in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods and Findings
The following combination drug therapies compared versus single DMARD were investigated: Double DMARD: 2 DMARDs (methotrexate, sulfasalazine, leflunomide, injectable gold, cyclosporine, chloroquine, azathioprin, penicillamin) or 1 DMARD plus low dose glucocorticoid (LDGC); triple DMARD: 3 DMARDs or 2 DMARDs plus LDGC; biologic combination: 1 DMARD plus biologic agent (tumor necrosis factor α inhibitor (TNFi) or abatacept or tocilizumab or CD20 inhibitor (CD20i)). Randomized controlled trials were identified in a search of electronic archives of biomedical literature and included in a star-shaped network meta-analysis and reported according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement protocol. Effects are reported as standardized mean differences (SMD). The effects of data from 39 trials published in the period 1989–2012 were as follows: Double DMARD: −0.32 SMD (CI: −0.42, −0.22); triple DMARD: −0.46 SMD (CI: −0.60, −0.31); 1 DMARD plus TNFi: −0.30 SMD (CI: −0.36, −0.25); 1 DMARD plus abatacept: −0.20 SMD (CI: −0.33, −0.07); 1 DMARD plus tocilizumab: −0.34 SMD (CI: −0.48, −0.20); 1 DMARD plus CD20i: −0.32 SMD (CI: −0.40, −0.24). The indirect comparisons showed similar effects between combination treatments apart from triple DMARD being significantly better than abatacept plus methotrexate (−0.26 SMD (CI: −0.45, −0.07)) and TNFi plus methotrexate (−0.16 SMD (CI: −0.31, −0.01)).
Combination treatment of a biologic agent with 1 DMARD is not superior to 2–3 DMARDs including or excluding LDGC in preventing structural joint damage. Future randomized studies of biologic agents should be compared versus a combination of DMARDs.
PMCID: PMC4171366  PMID: 25244021
5.  Evidence for differential acquired drug resistance to anti‐tumour necrosis factor agents in rheumatoid arthritis 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2005;65(6):746-752.
Acquired drug resistance or gradual drug failure has been described with most disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and is also starting to be recognised with anti‐tumour necrosis factor (anti‐TNF) agents.
To study acquired drug resistance to anti‐TNF agents in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Swiss health authorities requested continuous monitoring of patients receiving biological agents. Intensification of co‐therapy with traditional DMARDs, gradual dose escalation, and drug discontinuation rates in all patients receiving infliximab, etanercept, or adalimumab, adjusting for potential confounders, were analysed. Intensification of DMARD co‐therapy and time to discontinuation of the three anti‐TNF agents were analysed using a proportional hazards models. Dose escalation and evolution of RA disease activity (DAS28) were analysed using a longitudinal regression model.
1198 patients contributing 1450 patient‐years of anti‐TNF treatment met the inclusion criteria. The rate of intensification of traditional DMARD co‐therapy over time was significantly higher with infliximab (hazards ratio = 1.73 (99% confidence interval (CI) 1.19 to 2.51)) than with the two other agents. Infliximab also showed significant dose escalation over time, with an average dose increase of +12% (99% CI 8% to 16%) after 1 year, and +18% (99% CI 11% to 25%) after 2 years. No significant differences in discontinuation rates were seen between the three anti‐TNF agents (ANOVA, p = 0.67). Evolution of disease activity over time indicated a lower therapeutic response to infliximab (DAS28, p<0.001) compared with etanercept, after 6 months' treatment.
In this population, infliximab was associated with a higher risk of requiring intensification of DMARD co‐therapy than the other anti‐TNF agents and a significant dose escalation over time. Analysis of RA disease activity indicated a reduced therapeutic response to infliximab after the first 6 months of treatment, suggestive of acquired drug resistance.
PMCID: PMC1798167  PMID: 16339288
rheumatoid arthritis; antirheumatic therapy; anti‐tumour necrosis factor agents; drug resistance
6.  Impact of concomitant DMARD therapy on adherence to treatment with etanercept and infliximab in rheumatoid arthritis. Results from a six-year observational study in southern Sweden 
The objective of this work is to compare the adherence to therapy of patients receiving etanercept and infliximab during first tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-blocking treatment course in rheumatoid arthritis. Special emphasis is placed on potential predictors for treatment termination and the impact of concomitant methotrexate (MTX) or other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Patients (n = 1,161) with active rheumatoid arthritis, not responding to at least two DMARDs including MTX starting etanercept or infliximab therapy for the first time, were included in a structured clinical follow-up protocol. Information on diagnosis, disease duration, previous and ongoing DMARDs, treatment start and termination, as well as cause of withdrawal was prospectively collected during the period of March 1999 through December 2004. Patients were divided into six groups according to TNF-blocking drugs and concomitant DMARDs. Five-year level (one-year) of adherence to therapy was 36% (69%) for patients receiving infliximab in combination with MTX compared with 65% (89%) for patients treated with etanercept and MTX (p < 0.001). Cox regression models showed that the risk for premature treatment termination of patients treated with infliximab was threefold higher than for etanercept (p < 0.001). Also, the regression analysis showed that patients receiving concomitant MTX had better treatment continuation than patients treated solely with TNF blockers (p < 0.001). Moreover, patients receiving concomitant MTX had superior drug survival than patients receiving other concomitant DMARDs (p < 0.010). The superior effect of MTX was associated primarily with fewer treatment terminations because of adverse events. In addition, the study identifies low C-reactive protein level, high age, elevated health assessment questionnaire score, and higher previous number of DMARDs as predictors of premature treatment termination. In summary, treatment with etanercept has higher adherence to therapy than treatment with infliximab. Concomitant MTX is associated with improved treatment continuation of biologics when compared with both TNF blockers as monotherapy and TNF blockers combined with other DMARDs.
PMCID: PMC1794519  PMID: 17121678
7.  Treatment patterns in psoriatic arthritis patients newly initiated on oral nonbiologic or biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs 
This study aimed to describe treatment changes (discontinuation, switching, and therapy add-on) following the initiation of biologic or nonbiologic oral disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in psoriatic arthritis (PsA) patients.
Adult patients with ≥2 PsA diagnoses from physician office visits, initiated on a biologic or nonbiologic oral DMARD, were selected from the Truven Health Analytics MarketScan® Research Database (2005 to 2009). Patients were required to have continuous insurance coverage ≥6 months prior to and ≥12 months post index date (first prescription fill date). Treatment discontinuation, treatment switch, and therapy add-on were captured over the 1 year period following the index date. Treatment changes were described separately for patients initiated on nonbiologic and biologic DMARDs.
A total of 1,698 and 3,263 patients were initiated on an oral nonbiologic DMARD and biologic DMARD respectively. For patients initiated on nonbiologic DMARDs, 69% had ≥1 therapy change over the 12 month study period (median time 85 days). Among patients who had a therapy change, 83% discontinued, 29% switched therapy (64% switched to a biologic DMARD), and 25% had a therapy add-on (76% added-on with a biologic DMARD). For patients initiated on a biologic DMARD, 46% had ≥1 therapy change (median time 110 days). Among patients who had a therapy change, 100% discontinued, 25% switched therapy (92% switched to another biologic DMARD), and 7% had a therapy add-on with a nonbiologic DMARD.
This study suggests that PsA patients newly initiated on a nonbiologic/biologic DMARD do not remain on the index treatment for a long period of time. A better understanding of factors related to these early treatment changes in PsA patients is needed.
PMCID: PMC4180135  PMID: 25146329
8.  Systematic review and network meta-analysis of combination and monotherapy treatments in disease-modifying antirheumatic drug-experienced patients with rheumatoid arthritis: analysis of American College of Rheumatology criteria scores 20, 50, and 70 
Biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) extend the treatment choices for rheumatoid arthritis patients with suboptimal response or intolerance to conventional DMARDs. The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to compare the relative efficacy of EU-licensed bDMARD combination therapy or monotherapy for patients intolerant of or contraindicated to continued methotrexate.
Comprehensive, structured literature searches were conducted in Medline, Embase, and the Cochrane Library, as well as hand-searching of conference proceedings and reference lists. Phase II or III randomized controlled trials reporting American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria scores of 20, 50, and 70 between 12 and 30 weeks’ follow-up and enrolling adult patients meeting ACR classification criteria for rheumatoid arthritis previously treated with and with an inadequate response to conventional DMARDs were eligible. To estimate the relative efficacy of treatments whilst preserving the randomized comparisons within each trial, a Bayesian network meta-analysis was conducted in WinBUGS using fixed and random-effects, logit-link models fitted to the binomial ACR 20/50/70 trial data.
The systematic review identified 10,625 citations, and after a review of 2450 full-text papers, there were 29 and 14 eligible studies for the combination and monotherapy meta-analyses, respectively. In the combination analysis, all licensed bDMARD combinations had significantly higher odds of ACR 20/50/70 compared to DMARDs alone, except for the rituximab comparison, which did not reach significance for the ACR 70 outcome (based on the 95% credible interval). The etanercept combination was significantly better than the tumor necrosis factor-α inhibitors adalimumab and infliximab in improving ACR 20/50/70 outcomes, with no significant differences between the etanercept combination and certolizumab pegol or tocilizumab. Licensed-dose etanercept, adalimumab, and tocilizumab monotherapy were significantly better than placebo in improving ACR 20/50/70 outcomes. Sensitivity analysis indicated that including studies outside the target population could affect the results.
Licensed bDMARDs are efficacious in patients with an inadequate response to conventional therapy, but tumor necrosis factor-α inhibitor combination therapies are not equally effective.
PMCID: PMC3529627  PMID: 23269860
bDMARD; rheumatoid arthritis; etanercept; systematic review; network metaanalysis; comparative effectiveness
9.  Association between the initiation of anti-TNF therapy and the risk of herpes zoster 
Herpes zoster (HZ) reactivation disproportionately affects patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It is unclear whether anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy elevates HZ risk, and whether monoclonal antibodies carry greater risk than etanercept.
To ascertain whether initiation of anti-TNF therapy compared with non-biologic comparators is associated with increased HZ risk
Design, Setting, and Patients
We identified new users of anti-TNF therapy among cohorts of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and psoriasis-psoriatic arthritis-ankylosing spondylitis (PsO-PsA-AS) patients during 1998–2007 within a large US multi-institutional collaboration combining data from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly, Tennessee Medicaid, and national Medicaid/Medicare programs. We compared HZ incidence between new anti-TNF users and patients initiating non-biologic disease modifying drugs (DMARDs) within each inflammatory disease cohort (last participant follow-up Dec 31, 2007). Within these cohorts, we used Cox regression models to compare propensity-score adjusted HZ incidence between new anti-TNF and non-biologic DMARD users while controlling for baseline corticosteroid use.
Main Outcome Measure
Incidence of herpes zoster cases occurring after initiation of new anti- TNF or non-biologic DMARD therapy
Among 32,208 new users of anti-TNF therapy, we identified 310 HZ cases. Crude incidence rates among anti-TNF users for RA, IBD, and PsO-PsA-AS were 12.1/1000 pt-yrs, (95% CI 10.7–13.6), 11.3/1000 (95% CI 7.7–16.7), and 4.4/1000 (95% CI 2.8–7.0) respectively. Baseline use of corticosteroids of > 10mg/day was associated with elevated risk [adjusted HR 2.13 (1.64, 2.75) compared with no baseline use. For RA patients, adjusted incidence rates were similar between anti-TNF and nonbiologic DMARD initiators [adjusted HR 1.00 (95% CI 0.77–1.29) and comparable between all three anti-TNF therapies studied.
Conclusions and Relevance
Among patients with RA and other select inflammatory diseases, those who initiated anti-TNF therapies were not at higher risk for HZ compared to patients who initiated non-biologic treatment regimens.
PMCID: PMC3773213  PMID: 23462785
shingles; zoster; herpes; biologic therapy; tumor necrosis factor-alpha; rheumatoid arthritis; adverse events; psoriasis
10.  Combined anti-tumor necrosis factor-α therapy and DMARD therapy in rheumatoid arthritis patients reduces inflammatory gene expression in whole blood compared to DMARD therapy alone 
Periodic assessment of gene expression for diagnosis and monitoring in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may provide a readily available and useful method to detect subclinical disease progression and follow responses to therapy with disease modifying anti-rheumatic agents (DMARDs) or anti-TNF-α therapy. We used quantitative real-time PCR to compare peripheral blood gene expression profiles in active (“unstable”) RA patients on DMARDs, stable RA patients on DMARDs, and stable RA patients treated with a combination of a disease-modifying anti-rheumatoid drug (DMARD) and an anti-TNF-α agent (infliximab or etanercept) to healthy human controls. The expression of 48 inflammatory genes were compared between healthy controls (N = 122), unstable DMARD patients (N = 18), stable DMARD patients (N = 26), and stable patients on combination therapy (N = 20). Expression of 13 genes was very low or undetectable in all study groups. Compared to healthy controls, patients with unstable RA on DMARDs exhibited increased expression of 25 genes, stable DMARD patients exhibited increased expression of 14 genes and decreased expression of five genes, and combined therapy patients exhibited increased expression of six genes and decreased expression of 10 genes. These findings demonstrate that active RA is associated with increased expression of circulating inflammatory markers whereas increases in inflammatory gene expression are diminished in patients with stable disease on either DMARD or anti-TNF-α therapy. Furthermore, combination DMARD and anti-TNF-α therapy is associated with greater reductions in circulating inflammatory gene expression compared to DMARD therapy alone. These results suggest that assessment of peripheral blood gene expression may prove useful to monitor disease progression and response to therapy.
PMCID: PMC3525111  PMID: 23264777
gene expression; rheumatoid arthritis; anti-TNF-α; whole blood; biomarker
11.  Changes in Use of Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis in the U.S. for the period 1983–2009 
Arthritis care & research  2013;65(9):1529-1533.
Use of non-biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (nbDMARD) and/or biologic DMARDs (bDMARD) is generally recommended to improve the prognosis of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The objective of this study was to describe the changing trends in DMARD use for RA over the past two decades.
We analyzed data from an open longitudinal cohort of RA patients recruited from rheumatologists’ practices in Northern California. We examined baseline demographic and clinical characteristics of the participants and their long DMARD use through annual comprehensive structured telephone interviews.
A total of 1,507 established RA patients were recruited through 5 enrollment periods between 1983 and 2009. Between 1983 and 2009, the use of any DMARD increased from 71% of all patients to 83% (p for trend <0.0001). In 2009, 43% received a bDMARD, 34% were on both nbDMARD and bDMARD, and 40% were treated with only nbDMARDs. The four most commonly used nbDMARDs in 2009 were methotrexate (49%), hydroxychloroquine (30%), leflunomide (13%) and sulfasalazine (7%). Etanercept (20%) was the most commonly used bDMARD in 2009, followed by infliximab (10%), adalimumab (9%) and abatacept (6%). Use of oral steroids was common (40%–50%) and remained similar throughout the study period.
There has been a significant increase in the use of DMARDs for RA over the past two decades. However, 15% of the individuals with a clinical diagnosis of RA were not receiving DMARDs in 2009. Future research should focus on sociodemographic and clinical factors associated with DMARD use for RA.
PMCID: PMC3717397  PMID: 23463543
12.  Patients’ views about treatment with combination therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis: a comparative qualitative study 
Combinations of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are increasingly used to control active rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however there is little information about patients’ perspectives, their expectations, concerns and experiences of this intensive treatment.
We interviewed a quota sample of 18 patients from a single tertiary outpatient clinic, stratified by gender, ethnicity and age, based on the outpatient clinic population. Patients with early RA (<2 years) received combined conventional DMARDs; patients with established RA (>2 years) received combined conventional DMARDs or DMARDs with biologics.
Four main themes emerged from the analytical framework: (i) patients’ expectations about the combined treatment focuses mainly on physical symptoms; (ii) the impact of the treatment on quality of life varied with the new medication in both groups (iii) concerns about new interventions concentrated mainly on potential side effects; and (iv) combination therapy can be self-managed in close collaboration with clinic staff, but this requires individualised management approaches. These themes resonate with von Korff’s collaborative management of chronic illness model.
To our knowledge this is the first qualitative study that examined systematically in patients with early and established RA their expectations, impact on quality of life, concerns about side effects and the management of the treatment when taking combined medication with DMARDs or DMARDs and biologics. Patients have generally positive views of combination DMARDs. Within routine practice settings, achieving medication concordance with complex combined DMARD regimens is challenging, and the concerns vary between patients; careful individual assessments are essential to successfully deliver such intensive treatment.
PMCID: PMC3524760  PMID: 23078166
Combination treatment; Qualitative study; Rheumatoid arthritis
13.  Systematic review of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs for juvenile idiopathic arthritis 
BMC Pediatrics  2012;12:29.
Treatment of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may improve outcomes compared to conventional therapy (e.g., non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, intra-articular corticosteroids). The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the comparative effectiveness and safety of DMARDs versus conventional therapy and versus other DMARDs.
A systematic evidence review of 156 reports identified in MEDLINE®, EMBASE®, and by hand searches. There is some evidence that methotrexate is superior to conventional therapy. Among children who have responded to a biologic DMARD, randomized discontinuation trials suggest that continued treatment decreases the risk of having a flare. However, these studies evaluated DMARDs with different mechanisms of action (abatacept, adalimumab, anakinra, etanercept, intravenous immunoglobulin, tocilizumab) and used varying comparators and follow-up periods. Rates of serious adverse events are similar between DMARDs and placebo in published trials. This review identified 11 incident cases of cancer among several thousand children treated with one or more DMARD.
Few data are available to evaluate the comparative effectiveness of either specific DMARDs or general classes of DMARDs. However, based on the overall number, quality, and consistency of studies, there is moderate strength of evidence to support that DMARDs improve JIA-associated symptoms. Limited data suggest that short-term risk of cancer is low.
PMCID: PMC3340294  PMID: 22420649
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis; Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs; Comparative effectiveness research; Systematic review
14.  Risk of incident or recurrent malignancies among patients with rheumatoid arthritis exposed to biologic therapy in the German biologics register RABBIT 
We used the data of the German biologics register RABBIT, a nationwide prospective cohort study, to investigate the risk of new or recurrent malignancy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) receiving biologics compared to conventional disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
The analysis was based on patients with RA enrolled in RABBIT at the start of a biologic or conventional DMARD therapy between 01 May 2001 and 31 December 2006. Incidences of first or recurrent malignancies were analysed separately. A nested case-control design was used to investigate the risk of developing a first malignancy. Matching criteria were: age, gender, follow-up time, disease activity score based on 28 joint counts (DAS28) at study entry, smoking status, and selected chronic co-morbid conditions (obstructive or other lung disease, kidney, liver or gastrointestinal disease, psoriasis).
A prior malignancy was reported in 122 out of 5,120 patients. Fifty-eight of these patients had received anti-TNFα agents, 9 anakinra, and 55 conventional DMARDs at study entry. In 14 patients (ever exposed to anti-TNFα: eight, to anakinra: one) 15 recurrent cancers were observed. The average time period since the onset of the first malignancy was nine years. Crude recurrence rates per 1,000 patient-years (pyrs) were 45.5 for patients exposed to anti-TNFα agents, 32.3 for anakinra patients and 31.4 for patients exposed to DMARDs only (Incidence rate ratio anti-TNFα vs. DMARD = 1.4, P = 0.6.). In patients without prior cancer, 74 patients (70% female, mean age: 61.3) developed a first malignancy during the observation. This corresponds to an incidence rate (IR) of 6.0/1,000 pyrs. Forty-four of these patients were ever exposed to anti-TNFα treatment (IR = 5.1/1,000 pyrs). In a nested case-control study comparing cancer patients to cancer-free controls, 44 of the cancer patients and 44 of the cancer-free controls were ever exposed to anti-TNFα agents (P = 1.0).
No significant differences in the overall incidence of malignancies in patients exposed or unexposed to anti-TNFα or anakinra treatment were found. The same applied to the risk of recurrent malignancies. However, in particular this last finding needs further validation in larger data sets.
PMCID: PMC2875631  PMID: 20064207
15.  Monoclonal antibodies in rheumatoid arthritis: comparative effectiveness of tocilizumab with tumor necrosis factor inhibitors 
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by persistent joint inflammation, systemic inflammation, and immunological abnormalities. Because cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-6 play a major role in the development of RA, their targeting could constitute a reasonable novel therapeutic strategy for treating RA. Indeed, worldwide clinical trials of TNF inhibiting biologic disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) including infliximab, adalimumab, golimumab, certolizumab pegol, and etanercept as well as the humanized anti-human IL-6 receptor antibody, tocilizumab, have demonstrated outstanding clinical efficacy and tolerable safety profiles, resulting in worldwide approval for using these bDMARDs to treat moderate to severe active RA in patients with an inadequate response to synthetic disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (sDMARDs). Although bDMARDs have elicited to a paradigm shift in the treatment of RA due to the prominent efficacy that had not been previously achieved by sDMARDs, a substantial percentage of patients failed primary or secondary responses to bDMARD therapy. Because RA is a heterogeneous disease in which TNF-α and IL-6 play overlapping but distinct pathological roles, further studies are required to determine the best use of TNF inhibitors and tocilizumab in individual RA patients.
PMCID: PMC3984066  PMID: 24741293
interleukin-6; rheumatoid arthritis; adalimumab; biologic
16.  Management of rheumatoid arthritis: consensus recommendations from the Hong Kong Society of Rheumatology 
Clinical Rheumatology  2010;30(3):303-312.
Given the recent availability of novel biologic agents for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the Hong Kong Society of Rheumatology has developed consensus recommendations on the management of RA, which aim at providing guidance to local physicians on appropriate, literature-based management of this condition, specifically on the indications and monitoring of the biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). The recommendations were developed using the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations for the management of early arthritis as a guide, along with local expert opinion. As significant joint damage occurs early in the course of RA, initiating therapy early is key to minimizing further damage and disability. Patients with serious disease or poor prognosis should receive early, aggressive therapy. Because of its good efficacy and safety profile, methotrexate is considered the standard first-line DMARD for most treatment-naïve RA patients. Patients with a suboptimal response to methotrexate monotherapy should receive step-up (combination) therapy with either the synthetic or biologic DMARDs. In recent years, combinations of methotrexate with tocilizumab, abatacept, or rituximab have emerged as effective therapies in patients who are unresponsive to traditional DMARDs or the anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α agents. As biologic agents can increase the risk of infections such as tuberculosis and reactivation of viral hepatitis, screening for the presence of latent tuberculosis and chronic viral hepatitis carrier state is recommended before initiating therapy.
PMCID: PMC3052444  PMID: 21046421
Hong Kong; Management; Recommendations; Rheumatoid arthritis
17.  Evidence for early disease-modifying drugs in rheumatoid arthritis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2003;6(1):15-18.
Some research evidence supports early aggressive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) using combination therapy with two or more disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) plus steroids, or even DMARDs plus an anti-TNF. By contrast, conservatively delayed DMARD monotherapy, given after non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have failed, has been criticised. However, recent long-term studies highlight the complexities in evaluating whether to abandon pyramidal treatment in favour of early DMARDs. Although patients given early DMARD therapy show short-term benefits, longer-term results show no prolonged clinical advantages from early DMARDs. By 5 years patients receiving early DMARDs had similar disease activity and comparable health assessment questionnaire scores to patients who received DMARDs later in their disease course. X-ray progression was persistent and virtually identical in both groups. These negative findings do not invalidate the case for early DMARD therapy, as it is gives sustained reductions in disease activity in the early years of treatment without excessive risks from adverse effects. However, early DMARDs alone do not adequately control RA in the longer term. This may require starting with very aggressive therapy or treating patients more aggressively after early DMARD therapy has been initiated.
PMCID: PMC400421  PMID: 14979927
18.  Risk of septic arthritis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the effect of anti-TNF therapy: results from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2011;70(10):1810-1814.
To evaluate the risk of septic arthritis (SA) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treated with anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy.
Using data from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register, a prospective observational study, the authors compared the risk of SA between 11 881 anti-TNF-treated and 3673 non-biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (nbDMARD)-treated patients.
199 patients had at least one episode of SA (anti-TNF: 179, nbDMARD: 20). Incidence rates were: anti-TNF 4.2/1000 patient years (pyrs) follow-up (95% CI 3.6 to 4.8), nbDMARD 1.8/1000 pyrs (95% CI 1.1 to 2.7). The adjusted HR for SA in the anti-TNF cohort was 2.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 4.4). The risk did not differ significantly between the three agents: adalimumab, etanercept and infliximab. The risk was highest in the early months of therapy. The patterns of reported organisms differed in the anti-TNF cohort. Prior joint replacement surgery was a risk factor for SA in all patients. The rate of postoperative joint infection (within 90 days of surgery) was 0.7%. This risk was not significantly influenced by anti-TNF therapy.
Anti-TNF therapy use in RA is associated with a doubling in the risk of SA. Physicians and surgeons assessing the RA patient should be aware of this potentially life-threatening complication.
PMCID: PMC3168332  PMID: 21784730
19.  The supplementary therapeutic DMARD role of low-dose glucocorticoids in rheumatoid arthritis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2014;16(Suppl 2):S1.
The management of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is primarily based on the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), mainly comprising synthetic chemical compounds (that is, methotrexate or leflunomide) and biological agents (tumor necrosis factor inhibitors or abatacept). On the other hand, glucocorticoids (GCs), used for decades in the treatment of RA, are effective in relieving signs and symptoms of the disease, but also interfere with radiographic progression, either as monotherapy or in combination with conventional synthetic DMARDs. GCs exert most of their biological effects through a genomic action, using the cytosolic GC receptor and then interacting with the target genes within target cells that can result in increased expression of regulatory - including anti-inflammatory - proteins (transactivation) or decreased production of proinflammatory proteins (transrepression). An inadequate secretion of GCs from the adrenal gland, in relation to stress and inflammation, seems to play an important role in the pathogenesis and disease progression of RA. At present there is clear evidence that GC therapy, especially long-term low-dose treatment, slows radiographic progression by at least 50% when given to patients with early RA, hence satisfying the conventional definition of a DMARD. In addition, long-term follow-up studies suggest that RA treatment strategies which include GC therapy may favorably alter the disease course even after their discontinuation. Finally, a low-dose, modified night-release formulation of prednisone, although administered in the evening (replacement therapy), has been developed to counteract the circadian (night) rise in proinflammatory cytokine levels that contributes to disease activity, and might represent the way to further optimize the DMARD activity exerted by GCs in RA.
PMCID: PMC4249490  PMID: 25608624
20.  Step‐up combination versus switching of non‐biological disease‐modifying antirheumatic drugs in rheumatoid arthritis: results from a retrospective observational study 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2007;66(8):1059-1065.
In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), treatment with disease‐modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) frequently needs to be changed because of insufficient effectiveness.
To compare the clinical outcomes of two potential strategies for patients experiencing DMARD discontinuations related to ineffectiveness: switching to another DMARD or step‐up combination therapy of the present DMARD with a new one.
In a large observational database of 4585 DMARD courses in 1214 patients with RA, all patients who had experienced a change in treatment regimen were identified, and retention, effectiveness and safety of these subsequent treatment courses between the two strategies (switching vs step‐up combination). All analyses were stratified according to the type of the new DMARD into methotrexate (MTX), sulphasalazine (SSZ) or leflunomide (LEF); all other DMARDs were excluded.
Kaplan–Meier analysis for MTX courses showed no significant difference in overall retention rates between the strategies of adding MTX and switching to MTX (p = 0.49 by log rank test). Likewise, switching or adding did not result in significantly different retention rates for SSZ and LEF (p = 0.61 and 0.74, respectively). This similarity between strategies remained after adjusting for several confounding variables. The frequencies of treatment terminations related to ineffectiveness or toxicity were likewise similar between the two strategies for the MTX, SSZ and LEF groups. This was also confirmed by the similarity of erythrocyte sedimentation rates that were reached at the end of the two therapeutic strategies for all three drugs, in adjusted analysis.
Given all limitations of observational studies, the present data indicate that in situations of ineffective DMARD treatments, step‐up combination therapy using traditional DMARDs, such as MTX, SSZ or LEF, bears no clear clinical advantage over switching to the new DMARD. Our results do not implicate any predication about step‐up design including biologicals, where the benefit of combination therapy has been suggested convincingly.
PMCID: PMC1954688  PMID: 17307765
21.  Rates of new-onset psoriasis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis receiving anti-tumour necrosis factor α therapy: results from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2008;68(2):209-215.
Anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF)α treatments improve outcome in severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and are efficacious in psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. However recent case reports describe psoriasis occurring as an adverse event in patients with RA receiving anti-TNFα therapy.
We aimed to determine whether the incidence rate of psoriasis was higher in patients with RA treated with anti-TNFα therapy compared to those treated with traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). We also compared the incidence rates of psoriasis between the three anti-TNFα drugs licensed for RA.
We studied 9826 anti-TNF-treated and 2880 DMARD-treated patients with severe RA from The British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register (BSRBR). All patients reported with new onset psoriasis as an adverse event were included in the analysis. Incidence rates of psoriasis were calculated as events/1000 person years and compared using incidence rate ratios (IRR).
In all, 25 incident cases of psoriasis in patients receiving anti-TNFα therapy and none in the comparison cohort were reported between January 2001 and July 2007. The absence of any cases in the comparison cohort precluded a direct comparison; however the crude incidence rate of psoriasis in those treated with anti-TNFα therapy was elevated at 1.04 (95% CI 0.67 to 1.54) per 1000 person years compared to the rate of 0 (upper 97.5% CI 0.71) per 1000 person years in the patients treated with DMARDs. Patients treated with adalimumab had a significantly higher rate of incident psoriasis compared to patients treated with etanercept (IRR 4.6, 95% CI 1.7 to 12.1) and infliximab (IRR 3.5, 95% CI 1.3 to 9.3).
Results from this study suggest that the incidence of psoriasis is increased in patients treated with anti-TNFα therapy. Our findings also suggest that the incidence may be higher in patients treated with adalimumab.
PMCID: PMC2605571  PMID: 18385277
22.  Perspectives for TNF-α-targeting therapies 
Arthritis Research  2002;4(Suppl 3):S17-S24.
Chapter summary
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common chronic autoimmunopathy, clinically leading to joint destruction as a consequence of the chronic inflammatory processes. The pathogenesis of this disabling disease is not well understood, but molecular events leading to tissue inflammation with cartilage and bone destruction are now better defined. Therapy with slow-acting, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as low-dose methotrexate, which is generally accepted as a standard, leads to a significant amelioration of symptoms but does not stop joint destruction. Due to these disappointing treatment options and the identification of certain inflammatory mediators as therapeutic targets, novel therapeutic agents such as monoclonal antibodies, cytokine-receptor/human-immunoglobulin constructs or recombinant human proteins have been tested in RA with some success. Clinical trials testing anti-TNF-α agents, alone or in combination with methotrexate, have convincingly shown the feasibility and efficacy of these novel approaches to the therapy of RA. A clinical trial testing combination therapy with chimeric (mouse/human) anti-TNF-α monoclonal antibody infliximab and methotrexate showed, for the first time in any RA trial, that there was no median radiological progression in the groups given infliximab plus methotrexate over a 12-month observation period. Similar encouraging results might arise from trials employing other TNF-α-directed agents, such as the fully human monoclonal antibody D2E7, the p75 TNF-α-receptor/Ig construct, etanercept, or others, as discussed in this review. Combination partners other than methotrexate will be established as suitable cotreatment along with anti-TNF-α biologicals. Forthcoming new indications for TNF-α-targeted therapies are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3240140  PMID: 12110119
D2E7; etanercept; infliximab; TNF-α; therapy
23.  Do anti-TNF agents have equal efficacy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis? 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2004;6(Suppl 2):S3-S11.
Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonists have dramatically improved the outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Three agents currently available in the USA – infliximab, etanercept, and adalimumab – have been designed to modify the biologic effects of TNF. Infliximab and adalimumab are monoclonal antibodies, and etanercept is a soluble protein. The pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of each differs significantly from those of the others. All three agents are effective and safe, and can improve the quality of life in patients with RA. Although no direct comparisons are available, clinical trials provide evidence that can be used to evaluate the comparative efficacy of these agents. Infliximab, in combination with methotrexate, has been shown to relieve the signs and symptoms of RA, decrease total joint score progression, prevent joint erosions and joint-space narrowing, and improve physical function for up to 2 years. Etanercept has been shown to relieve the signs and symptoms of RA, decrease total joint score progression, and slow the rate of joint destruction, and might improve physical function. Etanercept is approved with and without methotrexate for patients who have demonstrated an incomplete response to therapy with methotrexate and other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), as well as for first-line therapy in early RA, psoriatic arthritis, and juvenile RA. Adalimumab relieves the signs and symptoms of RA with and without methotrexate and other DMARDs, decreases total joint score progression, prevents joint erosions and joint-space narrowing in combination with methotrexate, and might improve physical function. When selecting a TNF antagonist, rheumatologists should weigh evidence and experience with specific agents before a decision is made for use in therapy.
PMCID: PMC2833457  PMID: 15228615
adalimumab; efficacy; etanercept; infliximab; rheumatoid arthritis
24.  Clinical efficacy of infliximab plus methotrexate in DMARD naive and DMARD refractory rheumatoid arthritis is associated with decreased synovial expression of TNFα and IL18 but not CXCL12 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2005;64(4):537-543.
Background: Tumour necrosis α (TNFα) blocking agents lead to pronounced clinical effects and reduced synovial infiltrate in rheumatoid arthritis. Laboratory and clinical studies suggest that TNFα independent pathways play a role in the disease.
Objectives: To evaluate the immunopathological effects of combination therapy on rheumatoid synovial tissue in order to identify TNFα independent mechanisms.
Methods: 12 rheumatoid patients, including four DMARD (disease modifying antirheumatic drug) naive patients with early disease, were studied for the effect of combination therapy with infliximab and methotrexate on the synovial infiltrate. Biopsies and clinical assessments (DAS28) were carried out before the first and after the third infusion of infliximab. Synovial inflammation was scored semiquantitatively. Co-expression of CD38+ cells was studied by an immunofluorescent double labelling technique.
Results: Marked clinical responses were associated with a global reduction in the synovial infiltrate and expression of cytokines, notably interleukin 18 and TNFα, but low grade disease activity persisted. There was no effect on the expression of CXC chemokine ligand (CXCL12), and germinal centre-like structures were still detectable in synovial tissue in two patients after treatment. CD38+ activated T cells were more resistant to treatment than CD38+ plasma cells. No differences in clinical response or effects on synovial infiltrate were observed between DMARD refractory and DMARD naive patients.
Conclusions: Persistent expression of CXCL12 and incomplete resolution of lymphocytic infiltrates after infliximab plus methotrexate indicates that TNFα independent mechanisms are operative in rheumatoid arthritis. This may contribute to low grade disease activity, even in DMARD naive patients with early disease.
PMCID: PMC1755439  PMID: 15769913
25.  Efficacy of Anti-TNF Agents as Adjunctive Therapy for Knee Synovitis Refractory to Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs in Patients with Peripheral Spondyloarthritis 
ISRN Rheumatology  2013;2013:907085.
Our aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors as add-on therapy for knee synovitis that did not respond to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and other standard treatments in patients with peripheral spondyloarthritis (SpA). We retrospectively studied 27 SpA patients, in whom an anti-TNF agent was added for active peripheral arthritis with knee synovitis refractory to DMARDs and treatment with low-dose oral corticosteroids and/or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and intra-articular (IA) corticosteroids. As response of knee synovitis, were considered the absence of swelling, tenderness, and decreased range of movement in the clinical examination, after 4 months of anti-TNF therapy. In twenty-four (88.9%) of the patients there was response of knee synovitis. No statistical differences in gender (P = 0.53), age (P = 0.88), disease subtype (P = 0.22), and pattern of arthritis (P = 0.20) between knee synovitis responders and nonresponders were found. Fourteen patients managed to stop DMARD therapy and six, all of whom were initially on DMARDs combination, to decrease the number of DMARDs to one, maintaining simultaneously the response of knee synovitis. Our results imply a beneficial effect of adjunctive anti-TNF therapy on knee synovitis not responding to DMARDs and other standard treatments in patients with peripheral SpA.
PMCID: PMC3693177  PMID: 23840963

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