Efficacy of biologicals in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. a meta-analysis

Pharmacology. 2009;83(1):1-9. doi: 10.1159/000165777. Epub 2008 Oct 28.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic multisystem disease. A characteristic feature of RA is persistent inflammatory synovitis, usually involving the peripheral joints in a symmetric distribution. The prevalence of RA is approximately 0.8% of the population (range: 0.3-2.1%); women are affected approximately 3 times more often than men. The current therapeutic approach is to start a disease-modifying agent early in the illness to prevent eventual joint damage. Older disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs include methotrexate, sulphasalazine and hydroxychloroquine. Newer ones such as leflunomide and cyclosporin are also used. A recent advance in the management of rheumatoid arthritis is the use of biological agents, which block certain key molecules involved in the pathogenesis of the illness. They include tumour-necrosis-factor-alpha-blocking agents such as infliximab, etanercept and adalimumab, the anti-CD-20 agent, rituximab, and CTLA-4 Ig abatacept. The present study was planned with the aim of evaluating the efficacy of such newer biological therapies in refractory RA at various time points. Databases including Medline, Embase and the Cochrane Library were searched for all relevant studies up to January 2007. A total of 26 studies were included in present meta-analysis. The method of DerSimonian and Laird [Control Clin Trials 1986;7:177-188] was used to calculated a pooled odds ratio (OR) for the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria 20, 50 and 70, at 24, 54 and 96 weeks. The overall pooled OR were found to be significantly more than the placebo at all 3 time points for all 3 criteria (ACR 20, 50 70). In conclusion, biologicals as a group are highly effective in the treatment of RA. Biologicals were efficacious both in treatment naïve and methotrexate-refractory patients.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Synovitis / drug therapy
  • Synovitis / etiology
  • Time Factors


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors