The Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (ERA) trial compared monotherapy with etanercept or methotrexate in patients with early erosive rheumatoid arthritis. Over the initial period of 12, and subsequently 24, months both treatments were associated with a profound reduction in radiographic progression of joint damage, as well as a reduction in signs and symptoms of disease. Etanercept showed slight superiority to methotrexate in reducing subsequent radiographic erosions and in the rapidity of the clinical response. Both therapies proved to be safe and well tolerated and, importantly, the relative safety and tolerance of a rapidly escalated dosing regimen for methotrexate was demonstrated. In summary, early aggressive treatment of RA is associated with clinical and radiographic benefit that can be demonstrated after a relatively short period of treatment.