Objectives: To compare the occurrence of drug-free remission, functional ability and radiological damage after 4 years of response-driven treatment according to four different treatment strategies for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Patients with recent-onset, active RA (n = 508) were randomly assigned to four different treatment strategies: (1) sequential monotherapy; (2) step-up combination therapy; (3) initial combination therapy with prednisone and (4) initial combination therapy with infliximab. Treatment was adjusted based on 3-monthly disease activity score (DAS) assessments, aiming at a DAS ⩽2.4. From the third year, patients with a sustained DAS <1.6 discontinued treatment.
Results: In total, 43% of patients were in remission (DAS <1.6) at 4 years and 13% were in drug-free remission: 14%, 12%, 8% and 18% of patients in groups 1–4, respectively. The absence of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies, male gender and short symptom duration were independently associated with drug-free remission. Functional ability and remission were maintained in all four groups with the continuation of DAS-driven treatment, without significant differences between the groups. Significant progression of joint damage was observed in 38% and 31% of patients in groups 3 and 4 versus 51% and 54% of patients in groups 1 and 2 (p<0.05, group 4 versus groups 1 and 2, group 3 versus group 2).
Conclusions: In patients with recent-onset active RA, drug-free remission was achieved in up to 18% of patients. DAS-driven treatment maintained clinical and functional improvement, independent of the treatment strategy. Joint damage progression remained significantly lower after initial combination therapy compared with initial monotherapy.
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