A new drug combination for rheumatoid arthritis treats the disease just as well as other intensive treatment strategies but with less medication and fewer side effects at a significantly lower cost. Doctoral researcher Diederik De Cock (KU Leuven) describes the strategy in a new study published in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic auto-immune disease that causes pain and stiffness in the joints, fatigue, bone damage and, eventually, loss of mobility. RA afflicts around 1% of people in the western world; in Belgium, 80,000 to 100,000 people currently live with the disease.
Because there is no known cure for RA, physicians focus treatment on suppressing disease activity. Therapies have improved in recent years, and clinical studies show that intensive treatment of early RA can prevent joint damage and improve patients' quality of life.
In the two-year study, called 'CareRA' (Care in early RA), researchers and clinicians in the rheumatology unit at University Hospitals Leuven examined various therapies for early RA. Their goal: to find the optimal combination and dosage of three commonly prescribed antirheumatic drugs (methotrexate, sulfasalazine and leflunomide) in combination with glucocorticoids (a class of steroid hormones).
The researchers divided 290 early RA patients into three treatment groups. Each group received a different combination therapy: 'COBRA Classic' (methotrexate, sulfasalazine and a high first dose of glucocorticoids), 'COBRA Slim' (methotrexate and a moderate dose of glucocorticoids) or 'COBRA Avant-Garde' (methotrexate, leflunomide and a moderate dose of glucocorticoids).