Objective: To compare the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, penicillamine, sodium aurothiomalate and auranofin in the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis over a period of 5 yr.
Method: Five hundred and forty-one patients with definite or classical rheumatoid arthritis were entered into an open randomized controlled trial with a flexible dose regimen designed to reflect clinical practice. Decisions to stop treatment with any one of the disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) were based on an agreed trial protocol which defined criteria for adverse reactions and therapeutic failure. The managing physicians' decisions were confirmed in a separate monitor clinic.
Results: The proportion of patients who remained on their first DMARD or who were in remission at 5 yr was 53% for penicillamine, 34% for sodium aurothiomalate, 31%, for auranofin and 30% for hydroxychloroquine (P < 0.001). In patients who stayed on their first DMARD, all groups showed a 30-50% improvement in C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, Ritchie Index and joint stiffness, and a deterioration in their Larsen score. There was no evidence of physician bias to explain the larger proportion of patients remaining on penicillamine for 5 yr.
Conclusion: Despite the increased popularity of sulphasalazine and inmmunosuppressives, the drugs in this study continue to be used worldwide. The natural history of rheumatoid arthritis requires long-term follow up to establish drug efficacy. Evidence is needed as to whether the newer regimens will prove to be more effective and safer in the longer term than the commonly prescribed DMARDs. The data from this trial will provide a reference for comparison with future studies.