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Etanercept therapy in rheumatoid arthritis and the risk of malignancies: a systematic review and individual patient data meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials


Purpose: Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) plays an important role in inflammation and may affect tumour growth control. To assess the risk of malignancy with etanercept, a fusion protein that inhibits TNF action, a meta-analysis was performed using individual patient data from randomised controlled trials (RCT) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: A search was conducted of bibliographic databases, abstracts from annual meetings and any unpublished studies on file with manufacturers of etanercept to December 2006. Only RCT of etanercept used for 12 weeks or more in patients with RA were included. Nine trials met the inclusion criteria. To adjudicate endpoints, the case narratives of potential cases were reviewed. Patient-level data were extracted from the clinical trials databases.

Results: The nine trials included 3316 patients, 2244 who received etanercept (contributing 2484 person-years of follow-up) and 1072 who received control therapy (1051 person-years). Malignancies were diagnosed in 26 patients in the etanercept group (incidence rate (IR) 10.47/1000 person-years) and seven patients in the control group (IR 6.66/1000 person-years). A Cox’s proportional hazards, fixed-effect model stratified by trial yielded a hazard ratio of 1.84 (95% CI 0.79 to 4.28) for the etanercept group compared with the control group.

Conclusions: In this analysis, the point estimate of malignancy risk was higher in etanercept-treated patients, although the results were not statistically significant. The approach of obtaining individual patient data of RCT in cooperation with trial sponsors allowed important insights into the methodological advantages and challenges of sparse adverse event data meta-analysis.

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