The efficacy of biologic agents in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and an inadequate response to tumour necrosis factor inhibitors: a systematic review

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Abstract

Objective. To assess the relative efficacy of subsequent biologic therapies in patients with RA who have had an inadequate response to prior therapy with a TNF-α inhibitor.

Methods. A systematic review was conducted using the MEDLINE, Embase and Cochrane Library databases and abstract lists from the European League Against Rheumatism, American College of Rheumatology and British Society of Rheumatology congresses. Searches covered the period from May 2009 (August 2009 for MEDLINE) to January 2011. Therapies considered were abatacept, adalimumab, etanercept, infliximab and rituximab, used at European licensed standard dose regimens.

Results. Four full publications and 41 congress abstracts met the criteria for inclusion. Significant improvements in RA signs and symptoms were reported for TNF inhibitors (individual agents or groups of agents, depending on the study) and for abatacept and rituximab. Rituximab was also associated with significantly improved radiographic outcomes. No head-to-head randomized controlled trials directly comparing different agents were published during the search period. Comparative data from registries and other observational studies suggest that rituximab is at least as effective as an alternative TNF inhibitor, and in some studies significantly more effective, in TNF inadequate responders.

Conclusions. RA patients with an inadequate response to one or more TNF inhibitors derive significant clinical benefit from subsequent therapy with an alternative TNF inhibitor or with rituximab or abatacept. Prospective randomized controlled trials are needed to help physicians in the best choice of further therapy for their patients.

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