Objective To describe the disease course after the cessation of infliximab in early rheumatoid arthritis patients with disease activity score (DAS)-steered treatment and to identify predictors of persistent low disease activity.
Methods In a post-hoc analysis of the BeSt study, disease activity and joint damage progression were observed in patients treated with methotrexate plus infliximab, who discontinued infliximab after achieving low disease activity (DAS ≤2.4) for 6 months. Predictors were identified using Cox regression analysis.
Results 104 patients discontinued infliximab, of whom 77 had received infliximab plus methotrexate as initial treatment. Mean DAS at the time of infliximab cessation was 1.3, median symptom duration was 23 months and median Sharp/van derHeijde score was 5.5. The median follow-up was 7.2 years. Infliximab was re-introduced after loss of low disease activity in 48%, after a median of 17 months. The joint damage progression rate did not increase in the year after cessation, regardless of flare. After re-introduction of infliximab, 84% of these patients again achieved a DAS ≤2.4. In the multivariable model, smoking, infliximab treatment duration ≥18 months and shared epitope (SE) were independently associated with the re-introduction of infliximab: 6% of the non-smoking, SE-negative patients treated <18 months needed infliximab re-introduction.
Conclusion Cessation of infliximab was successful in 52%, with numerically higher success rates in patients initially treated with infliximab. Of the 48% who flared, 84% regained low disease activity. The joint damage progression rate did not increase in the year after cessation. Smoking, long infliximab treatment duration and SE were independently associated with re-introduction of infliximab.
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Funding The study was designed by the investigators and supported by a government grant from the Dutch College of Health Insurance Companies, with additional funding from Centocor and Schering-Plough. Data collection, trial management, data collection, data analysis and preparation of the manuscript were performed by the authors.
Competing interests None.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the medical ethics committees of all participating centres.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.