Summary of AHRQ's Comparative Effectiveness Review of Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs for Children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

J Manag Care Pharm. 2012 Jan-Feb;18(1 Suppl B):1-16. doi: 10.18553/jmcp.2012.18.S1-B.1.


Background: A systematic review on the comparative effectiveness of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) used to treat children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) was published by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) in September 2011. Studies from 198 articles included in the review addressed the benefits and harms of DMARDs compared with conventional treatments and other DMARDs used to treat JIA. The review also incorporated studies comparing various clinical tools used for diagnosing JIA and measuring disease activity. Clinical outcome measures were analyzed to determine the most effective methods to measure disease state. The lack of current research for the treatment of JIA motivated AHRQ to contract with researchers to synthesize the available information with the intent of enabling health professionals to make evidence-based practice decisions for their patients. The review alsohighlights gaps in the research and areas that need to be addressed in the future.

Objectives: To (a) educate health care practitioners on the findings from AHRQ's 2011 comparative effectiveness review on DMARDs used to treat children with JIA, (b) apply review findings to make diagnosis and treatment decisions in clinical practice, and (c) recognize limitations and gaps n the current research relating to the comparative benefits and harms of DMARDs for treatment of JIA.

Summary: JIA is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting approximately 300,000 children and adolescents in the United States.1 Initially manifesting with inflammation, swelling, pain, and stiffness of the joints, the disease as no apparent or known cause. JIA is a clinical diagnosis based on several actors including the number of affected joints and the involvement of other tissues (e.g., the skin and lymphoid tissues), and JIA has 7 categories: systemic-onset arthritis, oligoarthritis, rheumatoid-factor positive polyarthritis, rheumatoid-factor negative polyarthritis, enthesitis-related arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and undifferentiated arthritis.2 Complete remission and resolution of disease activity are the ultimate treatment goals; however, there is no present cure. Inhibition of inflammation, prevention of joint damage, and promotion of a high level of functioning are the immediate goals of treatment. Even with treatment, patients with JIA continue to experience disease activity, joint destruction, suboptimal function, and impaired quality of life, all of which extend into adulthood.3 JIA can be severely debilitating and places a heavy physical and psychological burden on children and families affected by the disease. Methotrexate is a nonbiologic DMARD with an unknown mechanism of action. Methotrexate has been used for so long in the treatment of JIA that it is frequently considered a part of conventional treatment; the evidence shows that methotrexate is superior to conventional treatment with NSAIDsand/or intra-articular corticosteroids. The introduction of newer biologic DMARDs has spawned optimism that treatment will increasingly lead to improved outcomes for JIA, but the evidence is insufficient to support superiority over methotrexate. There is moderate evidence to support the claim that continued treatment from 4 months to 2 years with a biologic DMARD in children who have responded to a biologic DMARD decreases the risk of a flare. However, the safety of biologic DMARDs for long-term use has not been determined and may be associated with the developmentof cancer. The association between tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha inhibitors and potential increased risk of lymphoma caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to place boxed warning labels on biologic DMARDs including etancercept, infliximab, and adalimumab. The effectiveness of the DMARDs appears to vary among categories of JIA and the treatment history of individual patients. Except for methotrexate, there is insufficient evidence to support selection of a specific drug or drug class over another in the treatment of JIA. The AHRQ review examines the scientific literature on DMARDs used in children with JIA in an effort to synthesize what is known about the subject, and the comprehensive review identifies important research gaps in the literature that need to be addressed. Only 8 studies (in 9 publications) were rated "good quality" by the AHRQ investigators.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antirheumatic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Juvenile / complications
  • Arthritis, Juvenile / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Comparative Effectiveness Research
  • Humans
  • United States
  • United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality


  • Antirheumatic Agents