Efficacy and safety of leflunomide or methotrexate plus subcutaneous tumour necrosis factor-alpha blocking agents in rheumatoid arthritis

M Benucci, G Saviola, P Baiardi, M Manfredi, P Sarzi-Puttini, F Atzeni
International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology 2011, 24 (1): 269-74
Several smaller retrospective case series have concluded that leflunomide (LEF) in combination with anti-TNF-alpha blocking agents appears to be effective and safe. Prospective case series and cohort studies have generally confirmed the efficacy of this combination. Overall, there is currently no evidence from controlled trials that an anti-TNF-alpha combination with LEF is as effective as an anti-TNF-alpha combination with methotrexate (MTX). We compared the effectiveness and safety of a therapeutic regimen associating subcutaneous anti-TNF-alpha agents, etanercept (ETN) and adalimumab (ADA), with leflunomide (LEF) or methotrexate (MTX), in a two year open-label study performed in clinical practice. We evaluated 96 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis undergoing therapy with ADA at the dose of 40 mg every other week, or with ETN at the dose of 50 mg/week for two years added to prednisolone (PDN) at the mean dose of 5.2±2.6 mg/day. Fifty-four of these patients were also undergoing therapy with MTX at the mean dose of 11.7±2.6 mg/week, while 42 patients were undergoing therapy with LEF at the daily dose of 20 mg. At 12 months, the analysis of variance showed an improvement of DAS28 in both groups (p<0.001), with a reduction in 33.3% of the patients in treatment with LEF and in 51.8% of the patients in treatment with MTX (p = 0.20). At 18 months, improvement was present in 33.3% of the patients in the LEF group and in 81.5% of the patients in the MTX group (p=0.001). This improvement seems to be independent of the anti-TNF-alpha agent, even if MTX produces the highest DAS28 reduction when used in association with ETN (p<0.078). We found no difference in drug discontinuation rates or in effectiveness measures between anti-TNFalpha+MTX and anti-TNFalpha+LEF. Our data showed a greater reduction of DAS28 in the MTX group and, in combination with ETN, better results after two years of therapy.

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