Study supports methotrexate monotherapy with TNF inhibitor rescue for early RA treatment


For patients with early rheumatoid arthritis, starting with methotrexate and adding adalimumab after 26 weeks if needed led to clinical and functional outcomes similar to those of starting with a dual adalimumab-methotrexate regimen, according to a study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Although upfront adalimumab-methotrexate led to about a 14% decrease in the likelihood of radiographic progression, nearly one in four patients did well over more than a year of follow-up without ever needing to add a biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), said Arthur Kavanaugh, MD, of the University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, Calif., and his associates.

Current guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommend treating RA to achieve clinical remission or low disease activity if remission is unlikely, and including a synthetic DMARD as part of the initial treatment strategy. The guidelines recommend adding a tumor necrosis factor inhibitor such as adalimumab if patients do not experience a reduction in disease activity after 3 months or do not reach clinical target within 6 months. To evaluate treat-to-target strategies, the industry-sponsored, industry-led OPTIMA trial enrolled 926 patients with a less than 1-year history of RA. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either weekly methotrexate monotherapy (460 patients) or adalimumab (40 mg) every other week plus methotrexate weekly for 26 weeks (466 patients).

At week 26, patients who had achieved stable low disease activity (LDA; 28-joint modified Disease Activity Score of less than 3.2, based on C-reactive protein) on dual therapy were re-randomized to either stay on or withdraw from adalimumab. Patients who achieved stable LDA on methotrexate alone stayed on it. Patients who did not achieve stable LDA by week 26 either stayed on methotrexate-adalimumab or received adalimumab rescue. For the current post hoc study , Dr. Kavanaugh and his associates compared longer-term outcomes between patients who received adalimumab-methotrexate at baseline and patients who started with methotrexate only. In addition to stable LDA, the investigators assessed normal function (Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index less than 0.5) and radiographic nonprogression (no more than 0.5 change in modified total Sharp score).

Patients who started on adalimumab-methotrexate instead of methotrexate monotherapy were significantly more likely to achieve stable LDA (53% vs. 30%), good function (45% vs. 33%), and radiographic nonprogression (87% vs. 72%) at week 26 ( Ann Rheum Dis. 2013;72:64-71 ). However, as-needed rescue treatment with adalimumab at week 26 achieved very similar clinical and functional outcomes compared with initial treatment with methotrexate-adalimumab. At week 52, 62% and 65% of patients in these two groups had stable LDA, and 44% and 47% had normal function, respectively. At week 78, 65% of patients in both groups had stable LDA and 45% and 48% had normal function, respectively. However, initial therapy with adalimumab-methotrexate was associated with lower chances of radiographic progression compared with methotrexate monotherapy (86% and 72% at both time points, respectively).

This is the first study to assess whether rapidly adding a TNFi improves disease outcomes compared with starting treatment with both adalimumab and methotrexate in patients with early RA, the researchers said. Importantly, 24% of patients who started on methotrexate alone never needed to add a biological DMARD, experiencing “little to no radiographic progression and mostly good physical function thereafter,” they reported. The study supports current guidelines and a stepwise treat-to-target strategy can prevent overtreatment in about one in four patients with early RA, they concluded.

AbbVie makes adalimumab, sponsored the study, and was involved in its design, analysis, writeup, and review. Dr. Kavanaugh disclosed ties to AbbVie through his institution. Nine coinvestigators disclosed ties to AbbVie; five of the nine reported current or former employment with the company.

SOURCE: Ann Rheum Dis. 2017 Nov 16. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2017-211871