Objective: To investigate the efficacy, tolerability and safety of cyclosporine A (CSA) in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients.
Methods: Patients with an early diagnosis of RA, a disease duration of less than 3 years, and without prior disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) treatment were studied. They randomly received oral CSA (3 mg/kg/day) or oral methotrexate (MTX) (0.15 mg/kg/week). In addition, all patients in both groups received oral prednisone (7.5 mg/day).
Results: Fifty-two patients were assigned to the CSA group and 51 to the MTX group. After 24 months of treatment, 48 patients from the CSA group and 48 from the MTX group showed significant clinical improvement. This was evaluated by the duration of morning stiffness, grip strength, the total joint count, joint swelling, and joint tenderness and pain, compared to pre-treatment values. The clinical improvement was also associated with a significant decrease in ESR and CRP values in both groups. No significant radiological deterioration was observed in the CSA patients compared to those treated with MTX after 24 months. Four patients from the CSA group dropped out of the study, two because of a synovitis flare, one because of severe hypertrichosis and one because of severe gingival hyperplasia. Three patients from the MTX group withdrew, one because of disease flare-up and two because of gastrointestinal disturbances.
Conclusion: Early immunointervention in RA patients appears to be crucial to limit the development of joint damage. Cyclosporine A appears to be effective, well tolerated and safe in the long-term treatment of RA and can therefore be used as a first immunomodulatory drug in the armamentarium for the treatment of RA.