Objective: To investigate the efficacy and feasibility of an intensive combination treatment in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) combined with monitoring both disease activity and cartilage degradation.
Methods: In a pilot trial, 21 patients with active early RA (mean DAS28 5.3; mean disease duration 3 months) were treated with COBRA treatment comprising sulfasalazine, methotrexate and high-dose step-down prednisolone, intensified by adding hydroxychloroquine and continued low-dose prednisolone. In addition, based on measurements of disease activity or a marker of cartilage degradation (CTX-II), treatment adjustments were possible with methotrexate intensification after 8 or 21 weeks; and with infliximab after 21 weeks.
Results: Nineteen of 21 patients (90%) were in remission (DAS28 <2.6) after 40 weeks (8 weeks, 57%; 21 weeks, 76%). American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria, ACR20, 50, 70 and 90 improvements rates were 100%, 95%, 71% and 43% respectively. CTX-II excretion decreased by mean (SD) 347(292) ng/mmol creatinine, but only 50% of patients reduced their CTX-II excretion below the cut-off point. The two monitoring groups showed no significant difference in remission according to DAS score or CTX-II excretion, despite a trend towards more intensive treatment in the CTX-II group. Treatment intensification was feasible according to protocol.
Conclusions: This small pilot study suggests that intensified and tightly controlled COBRA treatment is uniquely effective in early RA.
Trial registration number: ISRCTN96372677.
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Funding: This study was supported by an unrestricted research grant from Schering Plough BV.
Competing interests: None.