Similar effects of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, glucocorticoids, and biologic agents on radiographic progression in rheumatoid arthritis: meta-analysis of 70 randomized placebo-controlled or drug-controlled studies, including 112 comparisons

Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Oct;62(10):2852-63. doi: 10.1002/art.27592.


Objective: To define the differences in effects on joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients between therapy with single and combination disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), glucocorticoids, and biologic agents.

Methods: Randomized controlled trials in RA patients, investigating the effects of drug treatment on the percentage of the annual radiographic progression rate (PARPR) were included in a meta-analysis performed with the use of Review Manager 5.0 software according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) Statement protocol.

Results: Data from 70 trials (112 comparisons, 16 interventions) were summarized in 21 meta-analyses. Compared with placebo, the PARPR was 0.65% smaller in the single-DMARD group (P < 0.002) and 0.54% smaller in the glucocorticoid group (P < 0.00001). Compared with single-DMARD treatment, the PARPR was 0.62% smaller in the combination-DMARD group (P < 0.001) and 0.61% smaller in the biologic agent plus methotrexate (MTX) group (P < 0.00001). The effect of a combination of 2 DMARDs plus step-down glucocorticoids did not differ from the effect of a biologic agent plus MTX (percentage mean difference -0.07% [95% confidence interval -0.25, 0.11]) (P = 0.44).

Conclusion: Treatment with DMARDs, glucocorticoids, biologic agents, and combination agents significantly reduced radiographic progression at 1 year, with a relative effect of 48-84%. A direct comparison between the combination of a biologic agent plus MTX and the combination of 2 DMARDs plus initial glucocorticoids revealed no difference. Consequently, biologic agents should still be reserved for patients whose RA is resistant to DMARD therapy. Future trials of the effects of biologic agents on RA should compare such agents with combination treatments involving DMARDs and glucocorticoids.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Biological Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Evaluation
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Radiography
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Biological Factors
  • Glucocorticoids