Evolution of clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis

Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2018 Jul;30(4):340-346. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0000000000000516.


Purpose of review: The present review presents an overview of the evolution in trial design from mainly randomized placebo-controlled efficacy trials to more strategic clinical trials in rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis. Additionally, it relates to how these differently designed trials have affected clinical practice.

Recent findings: Placebo-controlled clinical trials, comparing a new agent to placebo on a stable background, have resulted in the development of a wide array of therapeutic agents in rheumatoid arthritis and spondyloarthritis. However, these kind of trials do have some down sides as they do not provide evidence on the optimal strategy to use this multitude of treatments in daily clinical practice and the ethics concerning a placebo phase are often discussed. These and other concerns resulted in the emergence of various different types of trials in rheumatoid arthritis. A similar change of focus is now observed in spondyloarthritis clinical trials. We address literature on direct comparison ('head-to-head'), noninferiority trials, induction-maintenance, discontinuation, and treat-to-target/tight control clinical trials.

Summary: In recent years various clinical trials have been published with a design different from placebo-controlled clinical trials. These novel trial designs aimed to provide guidance on the optimal way to use the full range of targeted treatments available and to make it possible, in some design, to leave out the placebo. In rheumatoid arthritis, some of these more strategic type of trials have had a large impact on common practice. In spondyloarthritis, the first steps toward trials with a more strategic design have been taken, and it stands to reason that more will follow.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Humans