LONDON – Subcutaneous methotrexate monotherapy may be more effective at helping recently diagnosed patients with rheumatoid arthritis avoid biologic therapy, compared with similar patients on oral methotrexate, based on an analysis of data collected from 483 Canadian patients in routine care and enrolled in a national registry.
“This is a signal for improved efficacy with subcutaneous methotrexate, compared with oral methotrexate,” said Dr. Stephanie Gottheil, who reported these results at the European Congress of Rheumatology.
“In general, as long as patients with rheumatoid arthritis are under good control without a biologic drug, that is preferable” to initiating biologic treatment, said Dr. Gottheil, a researcher at Western University in London, Ont. Delaying the start of biologic treatment saves money, avoids the increased risk of infection that comes with biologic treatment, and defers a patient’s immune response to a biologic drug that can eventually compromise the biologic’s efficacy, she said in an interview.
“These data did not come from a randomized trial and so are by no means conclusive, but this is a signal that supports other data that subcutaneous methotrexate potentially puts patients into remission faster, and we know that earlier remission predicts more sustained remission,” she said.
“The biggest barrier to subcutaneous administration of methotrexate is patient preference to not inject themselves, but results from some studies have also shown that subcutaneous methotrexate is better tolerated,” compared with oral dosing, she added.
The study used data collected in the Canadian Early Arthritis Cohort (CATCH), which enrolls patients at several centers throughout Canada diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis for less than 12 months. Dr. Gottheil and her associates particularly focused on 1,189 early RA patients with moderate to severe disease activity enrolled in CATCH during 2007-2012 who received methotrexate and had never previously received a biologic drug. The study’s primary endpoint was time to first treatment with a biologic during 3 years of follow-up after entry into the registry.
The patients’ average age at enrollment was 56 years, more than two-thirds were women, and their average methotrexate dosage was 20 mg/week. The cohort included 483 patients on methotrexate monotherapy – with virtually equal numbers on oral methotrexate and subcutaneous methotrexate – and 706 on a regimen that combined methotrexate with one or more additional (nonbiologic) drugs at baseline. The patients in each of the methotrexate monotherapy subgroups, those on oral or subcutaneous therapy, were very similar in their demographic and clinical profiles.
The analysis showed no statistically significant difference in time to first biologic use between the patients on a combination regimen and those on oral methotrexate monotherapy.
But when the researchers compared the time to first biologic among those on subcutaneous methotrexate monotherapy with those on oral methotrexate monotherapy, the subcutaneous patients showed a statistically significant, 47% reduced rate of starting any biologic drug during follow-up in an analysis that controlled for age, sex, education, comorbidities, disease duration, baseline disease activity, baseline corticosteroid use, joint erosions at baseline, and score on the health-assessment questionnaire at baseline, Dr. Gottheil reported.
The analysis also revealed three other variables that significantly linked with a slower progression to biologic treatment: older age, no use of corticosteroid treatment at baseline, and lower disease activity at baseline.
The CATCH registry research program is sponsored by AbbVie, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hoffmann-La Roche, Janssen, Pfizer, and UCB. Dr. Gottheil had no relevant disclosures.
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