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Comparative effectiveness and safety of biological treatment options after tumour necrosis factor α inhibitor failure in rheumatoid arthritis: systematic review and indirect pairwise meta-analysis
  1. Monika Schoels1,2,
  2. Daniel Aletaha3,
  3. Josef S Smolen1,3,
  4. John B Wong2
  1. 12nd Department of Internal Medicine, Hietzing Hospital, Vienna, Austria
  2. 2Division of Clinical Decision Making, Department of Medicine, Tufts Medical Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3Department of Rheumatology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  1. Correspondence to Monika Schoels, 2nd Department of Internal Medicine, Hietzing Hospital, Wolkersbergenstraße 1, 1130 Vienna, Austria; monika.schoels{at}


Background Optimal treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) after inadequate response (IR) to tumour necrosis factor α inhibitors (TNFi) remains uncertain.

Objective To compare the efficacy and safety of biological agents after TNFi-IR.

Methods A systematic literature search was carried out using Medline and Cochrane databases, as well as, and bibliographies of the retrieved literature were searched by hand. Randomised, placebo-controlled trials that enrolled patients with RA with TNFi-IR were included and American College of Rheumatology (ACR) response as primary efficacy outcome and adverse events (AEs), serious adverse events (SAEs) and serious infections (SIs) as safety measures were extracted. An indirect meta-analysis with pairwise comparisons of efficacy and safety data was then carried out using ORs or risk differences (RDs) in a random effects model.

Results In four randomised controlled trials with 24 weeks' follow-up, direct comparisons of abatacept, golimumab, rituximab and tocilizumab versus placebo showed statistically significant mean ORs of 3.3–8.9 for ACR20, 5.5–10.2 for ACR50 and 4.1–13.5 for ACR70. Risks of AEs, SAEs and SIs versus placebo were non-significant. Indirect pairwise comparisons of the four biological agents showed no significant differences in ACR50 and ACR70. Golimumab had a significantly lower OR (0.56–0.59) for ACR20 but significantly fewer AEs (RD 0.13–0.18). Efficacy after one versus multiple TNFi failures did not differ significantly between the different biological agents.

Conclusion In patients refractory to one or more TNFi, new biological agents provide significant improvement with good safety. Lacking head-to-head trials, indirect meta-analysis enables a comparison of effectiveness and safety of biological agents with each other and shows that all biological agents have similar effects.

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  • Funding This study was supported by a grant from Schering-Plough.

  • Competing interests Disclosure of honoraria for advice or public speaking/grants received/advisory board of the authors are as follows: MS: Schering Plough, Pfizer; DA: Pfizer, MSD, UCB, Roche, Schering Plough; JS: Abbott, BMS, Celgene, Centocor, MSD, Novo, Pfizer, Roche, UCB, BMS, Royalties: Elsevier.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.