Background: Several health authorities have recently revised the indication of infliximab (IFX) to include the treatment of early rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The aim of this systematic review of the literature was to appraise the efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness of early therapy with IFX.
Methods: We identified published clinical trials from 1966 to May 2006. We included randomized clinical trials (RCTs) in RA with disease duration of less than 3 years comparing the treatment of methotrexate-IFX (MTX-IFX) with methotrexate-placebo (MTX-placebo).
Results: A total of 8 studies met inclusion criteria. Three studies reported redundant data regarding the vdH Sharp Score. Out of the 5 remaining studies, 4 analyzed structural joint destruction (vdH Sharp Score) and demonstrated a significant reduction in radiographic damage progression in favor of the combination of MTX-IFX compared with MTX-placebo (-4.1 vdH Sharp Score units (95% CI: 3.5; 4.6). Three studies also displayed a benefit of MTX-IFX on functional outcomes of RA (HAQ score) and disease activity measures (DAS, ACR response criteria), although less markedly.
Conclusions: Although data might be skewed because of only 2 existing large studies with concordant data, results from RCTs demonstrate improved efficacy of the combination MTX-IFX compared with MTX-placebo in early RA. However, many early RA patients probably do not require the addition of IFX to achieve a satisfying clinical and radiological course. So far, no evidence has established the superiority of MTX-IFX over MTX-prednisone or other combinations of traditional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic agents.
Keywords: antirheumatic agents; infliximab; rheumatoid arthritis.