Predictors of response to anti-TNF-alpha therapy among patients with rheumatoid arthritis: results from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2006 Dec;45(12):1558-65. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kel149. Epub 2006 May 16.


Background: Anti-tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) therapies represent an important advancement in therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, there remains a proportion of patients who do not improve despite therapy. These drugs are expensive and have the potential of serious toxicity. Therefore, it would be ideal to predict the patients who will respond, so that the use of these drugs can be targetted.

Objective: To identify the clinical factors present at the start of anti-TNF-alpha therapy that are associated with response at 6 months in patients with RA.

Methods: The British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) Biologics Register collects detailed data on all patients with a rheumatic disease receiving biologic therapy in the UK. We studied all patients with RA who had started etanercept (ETA) or infliximab (INF) and had achieved a minimum 6 months follow-up by 1 October, 2004. The disease status at the baseline and at 6 months was assessed using the Disease Activity Score (DAS28). The response was classified according to the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR) improvement criteria. The effect of baseline characteristics on response was studied using multivariate ordinal logistic regression.

Results: 2879 patients were included in this analysis (1267 ETA, 1612 INF). At the start of therapy, the mean age was 55 yrs, disease duration 14 yrs, baseline DAS28 6.7 and health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) 2.1. In all, 28% of ETA and 86% of INF patients were receiving methotrexate. After 6 months, 18% had a good EULAR response, of whom 9% were considered to be in remission and 50% had a moderate response. There was no overall difference in response rate between the two anti-TNF-alpha therapies. A higher baseline HAQ score correlated with a lower response rate while a better response was associated with the current use of NSAIDs and the use of methotrexate (MTX), although the latter only reached statistical significance with ETA [OR 1.82 (95% CI 1.38-2.40)]. There was a lower response rate among current smokers, particularly in patients receiving INF [OR 0.77 (95% CI 0.60-0.99)]. Age, disease duration, rheumatoid factor and the previous number of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) did not predict response to either drug. However, females were less likely to achieve remission.

Conclusions: These data support an improved outcome among patients receiving MTX in combination with anti-TNF-alpha therapies. However, the most disabled patients were less likely to respond, despite concurrent MTX. The benefits of NSAIDs may reflect the relative absence of comorbidities in patients who can tolerate these drugs or the continuing presence of reversible inflammatory symptoms. The association of smoking and poor outcome with INF is a novel finding and may reflect alterations in pharmacokinetics. The inability of other baseline disease characteristics to predict the outcome suggests that other factors, including potential genetic differences in drug metabolism, may be influencing the response to anti-TNF-alpha therapies.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Infliximab
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Prognosis
  • Registries
  • Remission Induction
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Infliximab