Drug Combination Eases Rheumatoid Arthritis
2 Drugs May Be Better Than 1 for Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
Feb. 26, 2004 -- A combination of two drugs commonly used
separately to treat rheumatoid arthritis may be more effective in fighting the
potentially crippling disease than using either drug alone.
A new study showed that a combination therapy of Enbrel
(etanercept) and methotrexate provided better relief from symptoms than
individual treatment with the drugs.
The drug combination also led to complete remission of the
disease in more than twice as many patients compared with those treated with
either drug alone.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the population and
causes gradual deterioration of the joints. Researchers say that early
treatment with combination drug therapy may help prevent destruction of the
joints and slow the progression of the disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs Better Together
In the study, published in the Feb. 28 issue of The
Lancet, researchers compared the effectiveness of treatment with Enbrel
(given twice a week by injection) or weekly oral methotrexate alone to
treatment with both drugs in 682 people with active rheumatoid arthritis. The
effects of the three different treatments were assessed using standards set by
the American College of Rheumatology.
After six months of treatment, the study showed that the drug
combination provided better relief from symptoms than the individual therapies.
After one year, 35% of patients given the combination therapy experienced a
complete remission of their disease compared with 16% of those given Enbrel and
13% given methotrexate.
The study also showed that the combination therapy was more
effective at preventing joint destruction and erosion, as demonstrated by
Researchers say it's the first time a treatment has been shown
to improve joint erosion in people with established rheumatoid arthritis. They
say the finding suggests that repair of joints damaged by the disease may be
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Armin Schnabel of
the Klinik für Internistische Rheumatologie und Klinische Immunologie in Bad
Wildbad, Germany says many patients benefit from several drug combinations that
modify the progression of the disease. Much as in single drug therapy,
combination therapy is not always universally effective and leaves a sizable
number of patients with active inflammation.
Schnabel says the next generation of studies should target
people in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis in order to see if there is
a critical window of opportunity during which these combined therapies might
offer the greatest benefits.