Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the time to relapse after tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) antagonist discontinuation in patients with remission of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Among 304 patients taking TNFalpha antagonist therapy for RA, 21 achieved a remission and were taken off the TNFalpha antagonist. Remission was defined as DAS28<2.6 for at least 6 months without nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs or more than 5 mg of prednisone per day but with disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) therapy if needed. The same TNFalpha antagonist was restarted in the event of a relapse (DAS28>3.2).
Results: The 21 patients had a mean age of 61 years, a mean disease duration of 11.3 years, and a mean remission duration at TNFalpha antagonist discontinuation of 19.2 months. The TNFalpha antagonist was infliximab in 2 patients, adalimumab in 5, and etanercept in 14; and 14 patients were taking a concomitant DMARD. The number of patients still in remission after TNFalpha antagonist discontinuation was 9/20 after 6 months and 5/20 after 12 months. Mean time to relapse was 14.7 weeks. While off TNFalpha antagonist therapy, 3 of the 5 relapse-free patients after 12 months were on DMARD therapy, compared to 11 of the 15 patients who relapsed. Compared to the 15 patients who relapsed, the 5 relapse-free patients had a longer time on TNFalpha antagonist therapy (56 months vs. 35 months, P=0.012) and a longer time in remission on TNFalpha antagonist therapy (35 months vs.14.5 months, P=0.04). The 15 patients who relapsed consistently achieved a remission after resuming TNFalpha antagonist therapy; the remission occurred within 2 months in 13 patients.
Conclusion: TNFalpha antagonist discontinuation in patients in remission of RA was followed by a relapse within 12 months in 75% of cases. Relapsing patients responded well to resumption of the same TNFalpha antagonist.