PHILADELPHIA – Aggressive therapy using conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in combination with biologic agents early, soon after a child is diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (pJIA), enabled more patients to achieve clinical remission and longer times in inactive disease than more conventional therapeutic approaches, 3-year results of prospective, observational study demonstrated.
The results of The Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance STOP-JIA study, which Yukiko Kimura, MD, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, showed early combination therapy had benefits, compared with other treatment strategies that were more evident at 3 years than at 1 year of study.
“The STOP-JIA study showed that, after 3 years, patients who started a biologic early on in combination with methotrexate spent more time in inactive disease and achieved clinical remission more often when compared to those started on traditional step-up therapy,” Dr. Kimura, chief of pediatric rheumatology at Hackensack (N.J.) Meridian Health and professor of pediatrics at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, said at a press conference. “This study shows that the treatment of poly-JIA patients receive initially very early on in their disease matters even 3 years after that treatment was started.”
The study compared three CARRA consensus treatment plans (CTP) for untreated pediatric pJIA patients: step-up (SU) – starting conventional synthetic DMARD therapy and adding a biologic if needed after 3 or more months; early-combination (EC) therapy – starting synthetic and biologic DMARDs together; and biologic first (BF) therapy – starting biologic DMARD monotherapy.
Dr. Kimura explained the rationale for the study. “Since biologic treatments were introduced more than 20 years ago, the prognosis for JIA significantly improved. These very effective medicines often work wonders, quickly reducing pain and inflammation in joint disease activity,” she said in the press conference. “What is not known, however, is when is the best time to start these very effective treatments.”
The most common approach is to start with a synthetic DMARD, typically methotrexate, and wait before starting a biologic, Dr. Kimura said.
“But even though methotrexate can work very well by itself, it does not work for every patient, and we don’t know whether waiting months for it to work and then starting a biologic might potentially lessen their effectiveness,” Dr. Kimura added. “We don’t know if there’s a window of opportunity that’s lost while waiting to see whether methotrexate will work.”
The study originally enrolled 400 patients, 297 of whom completed the 3-year visit – 190 in SU, 76 in EC and 31 in BF. At 12 months, the study found no statistically significant difference in clinically inactive disease (CID) between the groups, Dr. Kimura said.
Even at the 3-year visit, the percentage of patients in CID off glucocorticoids and clinical Juvenile Arthritis Disease Activity Score based on 10 joints inactive disease (cJADAS 10 ID) did not differ among the three groups, Dr. Kimura said in presenting the results. “But,” she added, “greater proportions of early-combination CTP group were able to achieve clinical remissions and spend more time with inactive disease in both CID and cJADAS 10.”
A closer look at the outcomes showed some separation between early-combination therapy and the other two treatment plans. The incidence of clinical remission (at any time point over 36 months) was 67.1% in the EC group vs. 49.1% and 47.3%, respectively, in the BF and SU groups, Dr. Kimura said. “The difference between the early-combination and step-up groups was highly significant [P = .007],” she added.
EC also had an edge in the percentage of time patients spent in CID (over 36 months): 39.2% versus 32% and 27.4%, respectively, in the BF and SU groups (P = .006 for EV vs. SU), as well as cJADAS 10 ID (50.6% in EC group vs. 42.8% and 37.5%, respectively in the BF and SU groups; P = .005 for EC vs. SU).
Dr. Kimura said that the STOP JIA trial will continue with longer-term analysis and ongoing monitoring of study patients through the CARRA registry. “These longer-term analyses and readouts will be important because even though the results at 12 months didn’t seem as definitive, it seems the longer we go, the more impact we see of the treatments that were started early on in this disease.”
The findings from this study are “significantly important,” Nina T. Washington, MD, MPH, a pediatric rheumatologist at the University of New Mexico Hospital, Albuquerque, and the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Wash., said in an interview. “At least for the past decade we’ve really been advocating towards earlier and aggressive therapy, and that’s what this study shows: the sooner you can treat this disease, the sooner you can attack those joints that are inflamed, the better outcome you give the patient.”
The study also confirms that pediatric rheumatologists are not overtreating patients with pJIA, she added.
“In a sense we’re actually treating and preventing and if you have a child that has arthritis, it’s okay to treat that child,” Dr. Washington said. “For me that’s the most reassuring thing: that I’m not necessarily going overboard. If I have a child with polyarticular JIA and they have multiple inflamed joints and I have the evidence as they’re sitting in front of me, and I treat them. I’m going to give them the best outcome.”
The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute provided study funding. Dr. Kimura is chair of the CARRA JIA disease research committee and cochair of the CARRA Registry and Research Oversight Committee. She disclosed a financial relationship with Genentech. Dr. Washington has no relevant relationships to disclose.