Objective: To compare the clinical and radiographic outcomes in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who received monotherapy with either etanercept or methotrexate (MTX) for 2 years and to assess the safety of this therapy.
Methods: In the Enbrel ERA (early rheumatoid arthritis) trial, 632 patients with early, active RA were randomized to receive either twice-weekly subcutaneous etanercept (10 mg or 25 mg) or weekly oral MTX (mean dosage 19 mg per week) for at least 1 year in a double-blind manner. Following the blinded phase of the trial, 512 patients continued to receive the therapy to which they had been randomized for up to 1 additional year, in an open-label manner. Radiograph readers remained blinded to treatment group assignment and the chronologic order of images.
Results: At 24 months, more 25-mg etanercept patients than MTX patients met American College of Rheumatology 20% improvement criteria (72% and 59%, respectively; P = 0.005), and more had no increase in total score and erosion scores on the Sharp scale (P = 0.017 and P = 0.012, respectively). The mean changes in total Sharp score and erosion score in the 25-mg etanercept group (1.3 and 0.66 units, respectively) were significantly lower than those in the MTX group (3.2 and 1.86 units, respectively; P = 0.001). Significantly more patients in the 25-mg etanercept group (55%) than in the MTX group (37%) had at least 0.5 units of improvement in the Health Assessment Questionnaire disability index (P < 0.001). Fewer patients in the etanercept group than in the MTX group experienced adverse events or discontinued treatment because of adverse events.
Conclusion: Etanercept as monotherapy was safe and was superior to MTX in reducing disease activity, arresting structural damage, and decreasing disability over 2 years in patients with early, aggressive RA.