Much progress has occurred over the past decade in rheumatoid arthritis trial design. Recognized challenges have led to the establishment of a clear regulatory pathway to demonstrate efficacy of a new therapeutic. The use of pure placebo beyond 12 to 16 weeks has been demonstrated to be unethical and thus background therapy and/or early rescue has become regular practice. Goals of remission and 'treating to targets' may prove more relevant to identify real-world use of new and existing therapeutics. Identification of rare adverse events associated with new therapies has resulted in intensive safety evaluation during randomized controlled trials and emphasis on postmarketing surveillance and use of registries.