Background: We assessed the effects of reduction and withdrawal of treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who had a remission while receiving etanercept-plus-methotrexate therapy.
Methods: Patients with early active disease who had not previously received methotrexate or biologic therapy received 50 mg of etanercept plus methotrexate weekly for 52 weeks (open-label phase). We then randomly assigned patients who had qualifying responses at weeks 39 and 52 to receive 25 mg of etanercept plus methotrexate (combination-therapy group), methotrexate alone, or placebo for 39 weeks (double-blind phase). Patients who had qualifying responses at week 39 of the double-blind phase had all treatment withdrawn at that time and were followed to week 65 (treatment-withdrawal phase). The primary end point was the proportion of patients with sustained remission in the double-blind phase.
Results: Of 306 patients enrolled, 193 underwent randomization in the double-blind phase; 131 qualified for the treatment-withdrawal phase. More patients in the combination-therapy group than in the methotrexate-alone group or the placebo group met the criterion for the primary end point (40 of 63 [63%] vs. 26 of 65 [40%] and 15 of 65 [23%], respectively; P=0.009 for combination therapy vs. methotrexate alone; P<0.001 for combination therapy vs. placebo). At 65 weeks, 28 patients (44%) who had received combination therapy, 19 (29%) who had received methotrexate alone, and 15 (23%) who had received placebo were in remission (P=0.10 for combination therapy vs. methotrexate alone; P=0.02 for combination therapy vs. placebo; P=0.55 for methotrexate alone vs. placebo). No significant between-group differences were observed in radiographic progression of disease. Serious adverse events were reported in 3 patients (5%) in the combination-therapy group, 2 (3%) in the methotrexate-alone group, and 2 (3%) in the placebo group.
Conclusions: In patients with early rheumatoid arthritis who had a remission while receiving full-dose etanercept-plus-methotrexate therapy, continuing combination therapy at a reduced dose resulted in better disease control than switching to methotrexate alone or placebo, but no significant difference was observed in radiographic progression. (Funded by Pfizer; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00913458.).