Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of infliximab plus methotrexate (MTX) as induction therapy in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD)-naive patients with active, early RA who were included as group 4 of the BeSt study were initially treated with infliximab (3 mg/kg) in combination with MTX (25 mg/week). The Disease Activity Score (DAS) was measured every 3 months. In patients with persistent low disease activity (DAS <or=2.4) for at least 6 months, the infliximab dosage was tapered and finally discontinued; the MTX dosage then was tapered to 10 mg/week. In patients with a DAS of >2.4, the infliximab dosage was increased (maximum 10 mg/kg), and they were subsequently switched to another DMARD. Except for intraarticular administration, corticosteroids were not permitted. Functional ability and the modified Sharp/van der Heijde score were determined after 2 years of therapy.
Results: Of the 120 patients, 67 responders (56%) had persistent low disease activity and discontinued infliximab after a median of 9.9 months, with a median MTX dosage of 10 mg/week after 2 years. Ten other patients experienced a disease flare after discontinuation and resumed infliximab after a median of 3.7 months. Thirteen patients did not achieve persistent low disease activity and received infliximab at various dosages. Treatment was unsuccessful in 30 patients. In the 67 responders, the progression of joint damage was lower than in the 30 patients in whom treatment failed.
Conclusion: Fifty-six percent of patients with active early RA, initially treated with infliximab plus MTX, could discontinue infliximab after achieving a DAS of <or=2.4. Low disease activity was maintained in these patients while the MTX dosage was tapered to 10 mg/week.