Background: Neutralization of tumor necrosis factor a (TNF-alpha) for three to six months reduces the symptoms and signs of rheumatoid arthritis. However, the capacity of this approach to effect a more sustained benefit and its effect on joint damage are not known.
Methods: We treated 428 patients who had active rheumatoid arthritis despite methotrexate therapy with placebo or infliximab, a chimeric monoclonal antibody against TNF-alpha, in intravenous doses of 3 or 10 mg per kilogram of body weight every 4 or 8 weeks in combination with oral methotrexate for 54 weeks. We assessed clinical responses with use of the criteria of the American College of Rheumatology, the quality of life with a health-status questionnaire, and the effect on joint damage radiographically.
Results: The combination of infliximab and methotrexate was well tolerated and resulted in a sustained reduction in the symptoms and signs of rheumatoid arthritis that was significantly greater than the reduction associated with methotrexate therapy alone (clinical response, 51.8 percent vs. 17.0 percent; P<0.001). The quality of life was also significantly better with infliximab plus methotrexate than with methotrexate alone. Radiographic evidence of joint damage increased in the group given methotrexate, but not in the groups given infliximab and methotrexate (mean change in radiographic score, 7.0 vs. 0.6, P<0.001). Radiographic evidence of progression of joint damage was absent in infliximab-treated patients whether or not they had a clinical response.
Conclusions: In patients with persistently active rheumatoid arthritis despite methotrexate therapy, repeated doses of infliximab in combination with methotrexate provided clinical benefit and halted the progression of joint damage.