Objective: To investigate the efficacy and safety of leflunomide beyond 2 years in a multinational, open-label extension of 2 phase III double-blind studies.
Methods: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who received leflunomide (100 mg/day for 3 days, 10 mg/day or 20 mg/day thereafter) in the 2 phase III studies and who completed 2 years of treatment were offered inclusion in the open-label extension phase and were maintained on the same dosage of leflunomide. The American College of Rheumatology revised criteria for 20% improvement (ACR20), ACR50, and ACR70 response rates, the Stanford Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) scores, and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were assessed. Safety measures included monitoring of adverse events and laboratory values.
Results: A total of 214 patients (mean age 57 years) were treated with leflunomide for >2 years; 74.8% of the patients were female. The mean disease duration was 4.1 years (range 0.1-26.6 years), and in 44% of patients, RA was first diagnosed within 2 years of entry into the phase III studies. The mean duration of leflunomide treatment was 4.6 years (range 2.8-5.8 years), and 32% of patients had received no previous treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. ACR20, ACR50, and ACR70 response rates and HAQ scores at 1 year were maintained through year 4 or until the end point. No new types of adverse events were observed, and liver function was normal at baseline and at the end point in the majority of patients.
Conclusion: The improvements in both functional ability and physician-based efficacy measures seen with leflunomide after 1 year were maintained for up to 5 years (maximum treatment duration 5.8 years), demonstrating that the early efficacy of leflunomide in patients with RA is sustained long-term, and that the long-term safety profile of leflunomide is no different from that observed in phase III trials.