From the Journals

Study compares tapering strategies in rheumatoid arthritis



Patients whose rheumatoid arthritis was in sustained remission had similar rates of flare for the first 9 months after they tapered off either their conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), or their tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor, researchers reported.

Elise van Mulligen of Erasmus University Medical Centre and Maasstad Hospital in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Elise van Mulligen

After the first year, first author Elise van Mulligen of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and her associates found that flares rates were 10% lower among patients who first tapered conventional synthetic DMARDs, a difference that was not statistically significant. Because secondary endpoints also were similar between groups, patients should consider first tapering off their TNF inhibitor to save costs and reduce side effects, the researchers wrote in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Over the past decade, better drugs, treat-to-target approaches, and earlier disease detection have vastly improved outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. As more patients achieve sustained remission, they are tapering off therapy in accordance with current guidelines. This multicenter, single-blinded, randomized trial (Tapering Strategies in Rheumatoid Arthritis [TARA]) is one of the first to compare tapering strategies, rather than looking at only whether tapering is feasible.

The study included 189 patients from the Netherlands whose rheumatoid arthritis was in sustained remission (Disease Activity Score [DAS] less than 2.4 and swollen joint count less than 1 for at least 3 months) on a conventional synthetic DMARD plus a TNF inhibitor. Patients were randomly assigned to either halve the conventional synthetic DMARD dose, or to double the TNF-inhibitor dosing interval. After 3 months, they cut the dose of their assigned taper medication to 25% of baseline. If they stayed in remission, they stopped the medication 3 months later. They avoided glucocorticoids throughout.

There were no serious adverse events related to tapering. Cumulative rates of flare at 1 year (DAS greater than 2.4 or swollen joint count greater than 1) were 33% for conventional synthetic DMARD taper (95% confidence interval, 24%-43%) and 43% (95% CI, 33%-53%) for TNF-inhibitor taper (P = .17). The two groups also had similar scores at 1 year on the DAS, Health Assessment Questionnaire-Disability Index, and European Quality of Life-5 Dimensions index.

The suggestion to first taper off TNF inhibitors reflects current European League Against Rheumatism guidelines, which advise first tapering glucocorticoids, then biologic DMARDS, and finally conventional synthetic DMARDs. “Our results and the fact that TNF blockers are more expensive than conventional synthetic DMARDs support the aforementioned tapering order,” the researchers concluded.

An unrestricted grant from ZonMW supported the work. The investigators reported having no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Mulligen E et al. Ann Rheum Dis. 2019 Apr 6. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2018-214970.

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