Predicting drug-free remission in rheumatoid arthritis: A prospective interventional cohort study

J Autoimmun. 2019 Dec:105:102298. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2019.06.009. Epub 2019 Jul 4.


Background: Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) achieve disease remission with modern treatment strategies. However, having achieved this state, there are no tests that predict when withdrawal of therapy will result in drug-free remission rather than flare. We aimed to identify predictors of drug-free remission in RA.

Methods: The Biomarkers of Remission in Rheumatoid Arthritis (BioRRA) Study was a unique, prospective, interventional cohort study of complete and abrupt cessation of conventional synthetic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Patients with RA of at least 12 months duration and in clinical and ultrasound remission discontinued DMARDs and were monitored for six months. The primary outcome was time-to-flare, defined as disease activity score in 28 joints with C-reactive protein (DAS28-CRP) ≥ 2.4. Baseline clinical and ultrasound measures, circulating inflammatory biomarkers, and peripheral CD4+ T cell gene expression were assessed for their ability to predict time-to-flare and flare/remission status by Cox regression and receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) analysis respectively.

Results: 23/44 (52%) eligible patients experienced an arthritis flare after a median (IQR) of 48 (31.5-86.5) days following DMARD cessation. A composite score incorporating five baseline variables (three transcripts [FAM102B, ENSG00000228010, ENSG00000227070], one cytokine [interleukin-27], one clinical [Boolean remission]) differentiated future flare from drug-free remission with an area under the ROC curve of 0.96 (95% CI 0.91-1.00), sensitivity 0.91 (0.78-1.00) and specificity 0.95 (0.84-1.00).

Conclusion: We provide proof-of-concept evidence for predictors of drug-free remission in RA. If validated, these biomarkers could help to personalize immunosuppressant withdrawal: a therapy paradigm shift with ensuing patient and economic benefits.

Keywords: Biomarker; CD4(+) T cell; Cessation; Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug; Drug-free remission; Rheumatoid arthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antirheumatic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Remission Induction / methods
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antirheumatic Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • C-Reactive Protein