Etanercept for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 May 31;2013(5):CD004525. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004525.pub2.


Background: Etanercept is a soluble tumour necrosis factor alpha-receptor disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Objectives: The purpose of this review was to update the previous Cochrane systematic review published in 2003 assessing the benefits and harms of etanercept for the treatment of RA. In addition, we also evaluated the benefits and harms of etanercept plus DMARD compared with DMARD monotherapy in those people with RA who are partial responders to methotrexate (MTX) or any other traditional DMARD.

Search methods: Five electronic databases were searched from 1966 to February 2003 with no language restriction. The search was updated to January 2012. Attempts were made to identify other studies by contact with experts, searching reference lists and searching trial registers.

Selection criteria: All controlled trials (minimum 24 weeks' duration) comparing four possible combinations: 1) etanercept (10 mg or 25 mg twice weekly) plus a traditional DMARD (either MTX or sulphasalazine) versus a DMARD, 2) etanercept plus DMARD versus etanercept alone, 3) etanercept alone versus a DMARD or 4) etanercept versus placebo.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias of the trials.

Main results: Three trials were included in the original version of the review. An additional six trials, giving a total of 2842 participants, were added to the 2012 update of the review. The trials were generally of moderate to low risk of bias, the majority funded by pharmaceutical companies. Follow-up ranged from six months to 36 months.BenefitAt six to 36 months the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 50 response rate was statistically significantly improved with etanercept plus DMARD treatment when compared with a DMARD in those people who had an inadequate response to any traditional DMARD (risk ratio (RR) 2.0; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.3 to 2.9, absolute treatment benefit (ATB) 38%; 95% CI 13% to 59%) and in those people who were partial responders to MTX (RR 11.7; 95% CI 1.7 to 82.5, ATB 36%). Similar results were observed when pooling data from all participants (responders or not) (ACR 50 response rates at 24 months: RR 1.9; 95% CI 1.3 to 2.8, ATB 29%; 36 months: RR 1.6; 95% CI 1.3 to 1.9, ATB 24%). Statistically significant improvement in physical function and a higher proportion of disease remission were observed in combination-treated participants compared with DMARDs alone ((mean difference (MD) -0.36; 95% CI -0.43 to -0.28 in a 0-3 scale) and (RR 1.92; 95% CI 1.60 to 2.31), respectively) in those people who had an inadequate response to any traditional DMARD. All changes in radiographic scores were statistically significantly less with combination treatment (etanercept plus DMARD) compared with MTX alone for all participants (responders or not) (Total Sharp Score (TSS) (scale = 0 to 448): MD -2.2, 95% CI -3.0 to -1.4; Erosion Score (ES) (scale = 0 to 280): MD -1.6; 95% CI -2.4 to -0.9; Joint Space Narrowing Score (JSNS) (scale = 0 to 168): MD -0.7; 95% CI -1.1 to -0.2), and with combination treatment compared with etanercept alone (TSS: MD -1.1; 95% CI -1.8 to -0.5; ES: MD -0.7; 95% CI -1.1 to -0.2; JSNS: MD -0.5, 95% CI -0.7 to -0.2). The estimate of irreversible physical disability over 10 years given the radiographic findings was 0.45 out of 3.0.When etanercept monotherapy was compared with DMARD monotherapy, there was generally no evidence of a difference in ACR50 response rates when etanercept 10 mg or 25 mg was used; at six months etanercept 25 mg was significantly more likely to achieve ACR50 than DMARD monotherapy but this difference was not found at 12, 24 or 36 months. TSS and ES radiographic scores were statistically significantly improved with etanercept 25 mg monotherapy compared with DMARD (TSS: MD -0.7; 95% CI -1.4 to 0.1; ES: MD -0.7; 95% CI -1.0 to -0.3) but there was no evidence of a statistically significant difference between etanercept 10 mg monotherapy and MTX.HarmsThere was no evidence of statistically significant differences in infections or serious infections between etanercept plus DMARD and DMARD alone at any point in time. Infection rates were higher in people receiving etanercept monotherapy compared with DMARD; however, there were no differences regarding serious infections. For those participants who had an inadequate response to DMARDs, the rate of total withdrawals was lower for the etanercept plus DMARD group compared with DMARD alone (RR 0.53; 95% CI 0.36 to 0.77, ATB 18%). No other statistically significant differences were observed in any of the assessed comparisons.

Authors' conclusions: Etanercept 25 mg administered subcutaneously twice weekly together with MTX was more efficacious than either etanercept or MTX monotherapy for ACR50 and it slowed joint radiographic progression after up to three years of treatment for all participants (responders or not). There was no evidence of a difference in the rates of infections between groups.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antirheumatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / methods
  • Etanercept
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / administration & dosage
  • Immunoglobulin G / therapeutic use*
  • Methotrexate / administration & dosage
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / administration & dosage
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / therapeutic use*


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • Etanercept
  • Methotrexate