Objective: To compare the impact of immediate and delayed introduction of anti-tumor necrosis factor therapy on inflammation and structural damage in methotrexate (MTX)-treated patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Twenty-four patients with erosive early RA (duration < 3 years) who were receiving MTX were randomized to receive infliximab 5 mg/kg or placebo infusions at weeks 0, 2, and 6, and then every 8 weeks through week 46. Beginning at week 54 and thereafter, all patients received infliximab 5 mg/kg. Metacarpophalangeal joints were scanned using high-frequency ultrasonography and power Doppler imaging. Radiographs were evaluated using the modified Sharp/van der Heijde scoring system.
Results: From baseline to week 54, total synovial thickness was significantly improved in the infliximab + MTX group compared with the placebo + MTX group (median reduction 95.8% versus 37.5%; P = 0.005), as was the total color Doppler area (CDA; vascularity assessment) (median reduction 100% and 47.1%, respectively; P = 0.025). From week 0 to week 110, no significant between-group difference was observed in the change from baseline for total synovial thickening or the total CDA. At week 54, greater progression in the Sharp/van der Heijde score was apparent in patients receiving placebo + MTX compared with those receiving infliximab + MTX. Although radiographic progression in the placebo + MTX group was greatly reduced in the second year (after initiation of infliximab therapy), marked differences were observed between the infliximab + MTX group (median change in the Sharp/van der Heijde score 4.0) and the placebo + MTX group (median change 14.5) from baseline to week 110 (P = 0.076).
Conclusion: The results indicate that the efficacy of 2 years of combination therapy with infliximab + MTX for inhibiting cumulative structural damage was superior to that of 1 year of treatment with MTX alone followed by the addition of infliximab.