Adverse events with disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD): a cohort study of leflunomide compared with other DMARD

Grant W Cannon, William L Holden, Juhaeri Juhaeri, Wanju Dai, Linda Scarazzini, Paul Stang
Journal of Rheumatology 2004, 31 (10): 1906-11

OBJECTIVE: To determine and compare the incidence of serious adverse events (AE) during treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD), focusing on leflunomide (LEF).

METHODS: A retrospective cohort study of a large US insurance claims database was performed. Study groups were patients with RA classified by DMARD exposure as either no-DMARD therapy, single-agent DMARD (monotherapy), or combination-DMARD therapy. Specific DMARD examined were leflunomide (LEF) and methotrexate (MTX), compared to other DMARD (penicillamine, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, gold, etanercept, infliximab) and no DMARD (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors). All AE reported were considered endpoints; primary endpoints included hepatic, dermatologic, hematologic, infectious, respiratory, hypertension, and pancreatitis AE.

RESULTS: The 40,594 RA patients of the study period (September 1998 to December 2000) accumulated 83,143 person-years (PY) of followup. Followup for each of the groups was: DMARD-monotherapy, 46,054 PY (55% of total); combination-DMARD, 25,830 PY (14%); and no-DMARD, 11,259 PY (14%). The incidence rate of all AE combined was significantly lower for LEF monotherapy (94 events/1000 PY) than MTX (145 events/1000 PY), other DMARD (143 events/1000 PY), or no DMARD (383 events/1000 PY) (p < 0.001 for all comparisons). The "all-AE" rates during combination therapy with LEF + MTX (43/1000 PY) and LEF + other DMARD (59/1000 PY) were lower than the "all-AE" rate for DMARD + MTX (70/1000 PY; p = 0.002). LEF monotherapy had the lowest rate of hepatic events in the DMARD monotherapy groups.

CONCLUSION: The rates of AE in the LEF group, alone and combined with MTX, were generally lower than or comparable to the AE rates seen with MTX and other agents.

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