Objective: Methotrexate (MTX) taken as monotherapy is recommended as the initial disease-modifying antirheumatic drug for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The purpose of this study was to examine outcomes of a blinded trial of initial MTX monotherapy with the option to step-up to combination therapy as compared to immediate combination therapy in patients with early, poor-prognosis RA.
Methods: In the Treatment of Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (TEAR) trial, 755 participants with early, poor-prognosis RA were randomized to receive MTX monotherapy or combination therapy (MTX plus etanercept or MTX plus sulfasalazine plus hydroxychloroquine). Participants randomized to receive MTX monotherapy stepped-up to combination therapy at 24 weeks if the Disease Activity Score in 28 joints using the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR) was ≥3.2.
Results: Attrition at 24 weeks was similar in the MTX monotherapy and combination groups. Of the 370 evaluable participants in the initial MTX group, 28% achieved low levels of disease activity and did not step-up to combination therapy (MTX monotherapy group). The mean ± SD DAS28-ESR in participants continuing to take MTX monotherapy at week 102 was 2.7 ± 1.2, which is similar to that in participants who were randomized to immediate combination therapy (2.9 ± 1.2). Participants who received MTX monotherapy had less radiographic progression at week 102 as compared to those who received immediate combination therapy (mean ± SD change in modified Sharp score 0.2 ± 1.1 versus 1.1 ± 6.4). Participants assigned to initial MTX who required step-up to combination therapy at 24 weeks (72%) demonstrated similar DAS28-ESR values (3.5 ± 1.3 versus 3.2 ± 1.3 at week 48) and radiographic progression (change in modified Sharp score 1.2 ± 4.1 versus 1.1 ± 6.4 at week 102) as those assigned to immediate combination therapy. The results for either of the immediate combination approaches, whether triple therapy or MTX plus etanercept, were similar.
Conclusion: These results in patients with early, poor prognosis RA validate the strategy of starting with MTX monotherapy. This study is the first to demonstrate in a blinded trial that initial MTX monotherapy with the option to step-up to combination therapy results in similar outcomes to immediate combination therapy. Approximately 30% of patients will not need combination therapy, and the 70% who will need it are clinically and radiographically indistinguishable from those who were randomized to receive immediate combination therapy.
Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Rheumatology.