Purpose of review: To outline recent research findings with nonmethotrexate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs in rheumatoid arthritis and seronegative arthritis spanning systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, observational clinical practice trials and assessments of adverse effects.
Recent findings: Systematic reviews show no important differences between methotrexate, leflunomide and sulfasalazine monotherapies; early disease-modifying antirheumatic drug therapy reduces erosive progression. Observational studies show that nonmethotrexate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are widely prescribed; their usage has increased in the biologic era. A systemic review also showed patients who failed monotherapy benefited from disease-modifying antirheumatic drug combinations without excess toxicity. Randomized controlled trials of intensive initial disease-modifying antirheumatic drug combinations showed they reduce synovitis and erosive damage, especially when used with steroids. The subsequent sequence of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and the value of changing disease-modifying antirheumatic drug monotherapies or stepping-up to combination disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are, however, unresolved. The adverse risks of nonmethotrexate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs have been evaluated, including infections and lung disease; patient-related risks seem more important than drug-related risks, though several disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs increase both types of adverse reactions. Two limitations of nonmethotrexate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are reduced impact on comorbidities like cardiovascular disease and reduced patient and clinician preferences for these treatments.
Summary: Nonmethotrexate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are effective, relatively well tolerated and widely used. Their role in intensive treatment strategies in early rheumatoid arthritis appears of crucial importance.