Therapy of rheumatoid arthritis: new developments and trends.
The medical therapy of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been influenced strongly during the past decade by the recognition that many patients develop joint damage within the first year of disease. This observation has motivated rheumatologists to initiate disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) early in the disease course. This trend has been matched by the increased use of combination DMARD therapy, with the aim to maximize control of the signs and symptoms of RA and limit the development of joint damage. The results from controlled clinical trials generally have supported the concept that early, aggressive treatment with DMARDs is superior to less intensive strategies. In addition, certain DMARD combinations are more effective than the individual components of these regimens, but the evidence is strong for only a few DMARD combinations such as methotrexate and cyclosporine A. Three new drugs have been recently approved for the treatment of RA. Celecoxib, a selective cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor, has similar clinical efficacy as conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and in short-term studies causes no more gastric and duodenal ulcers and erosions than patients treated with placebo. Treatment with leflunomide, an inhibitor of pyrimidine synthesis, has been shown in controlled clinical trials to produce significant clinical improvement in 50% to 60% of patients with RA and delay radiologic progression of disease. The era of biologic therapy has dawned with the apparent success of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha blockade using etanercept, a recombinant TNF receptor:Fc fusion protein, and infliximab, a chimeric anti-TNF monoclonal antibody. These new agents expand our treatment options in RA and should lead to innovative and more effective treatment approaches.
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