Preliminary evaluation in rheumatoid arthritis activity in patients treated with TNF-alpha blocker plus methotrexate versus methotrexate or leflunomide alone

Margaret Wisłowska, Danuta Jakubicz
Rheumatology International 2007, 27 (7): 641-7
Methotrexate (MTX) is a first-line disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Leflunomide (LEF) and the biologic agents entered the arsenal of DMARDs in 1998. Therapeutic properties of new drugs are still under survey. The purpose of this study was to evaluate and compare the efficacy of MTX, LEF and a biologic agent (TNF-alpha blocker) combined with MTX in reducing disease activity in RA. Seventy-eight patients with active RA underwent a 24-week treatment with MTX 15 mg/week (30 pts), LEF 20 mg/day (30 pts) or a TNF-alpha blocker (etanercept 25 mg 2x weekly or infliximab 3 mg/kg in the week 0, 2, 6 and every 8 weeks thereafter) plus MTX 15 mg/week (18 pts). Only patients with RA resistant to MTX were included in groups receiving LEF or a biologic agent. During follow-up, patients' characteristics, disease characteristics, and clinical and laboratory data were registered. RA activity was evaluated using the ESR, tender and swollen joint counts, the duration of morning stiffness, disease activity score-28 (DAS 28), visual analogue scale (VAS) and health assessment questionnaire (HAQ). Treatment efficacy was demonstrated with ACR 20, 50 and 70 criteria. All groups revealed statistically significant improvement in all disease activity parameters measured. The percentage improvements were similar in groups treated with MTX and LEF and--except for VAS--significantly greater in the group treated with a biologic agent. Disease activity assessed by DAS 28 decreased significantly in all groups: the results were comparable in groups treated with MTX and LEF and significantly more prominent in the group treated with a TNF-alpha blocker. The ACR 20, 50 and 70 improvements amounted, respectively: 100, 50 and 7% in MTX group 87, 60 and 13% in LEF group and 100, 83 and 50% in a biologic agent group. The study revealed equal effectiveness of MTX and LEF in reducing disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis. The efficacy of a TNF-alpha blocker combined with MTX was higher than that of each conventional DMARDs, especially with regard to ACR 70 criteria (considerable improvement after treatment). LEF was equally effective as MTX in patients unable to continue MTX treatment due to the drug's ineffectiveness.

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