The combined use of MTX and biological DMARDs (bDMARDs) targeting TNF has revolutionized treatment of RA, and clinical remission becomes a realistic treatment goal. After sustained remission, discontinuation of bDMARDs without disease flare has been emerging as an important theme from the risk-benefit point of view and economic burden. According to several studies, approximately half of early RA patients could discontinue TNF-targeted bDMARDs without clinical flare and functional impairment after obtaining low disease activity or remission by treatment with bDMARDs and MTX. For established RA, however, fewer patients sustained remission or low disease activity after the discontinuation of bDMARDs, compared with early RA. The results were controversial among studies, and the percentage of patients who could successfully discontinue bDMARDs ranged from 13 to 48% at 1 year after discontinuation. From the adalimumab discontinuation without functional and radiographic damage progression following sustained remission study and the induction of remission by infliximab in RA study, deep remission at discontinuation was a key factor for maintaining the treatment holiday of bDMARDs in established RA patients. However, such early intensive treatment would have the potential for reducing drug-induced adverse effects and reducing long-term medical costs, although the risks of worsening clinical, structural and functional outcomes should be considered, with careful monitoring.
Keywords: TNF; biological DMARD; remission; rheumatoid arthritis; treatment.
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