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Newer RA Drugs May Reduce Heart Risk

Downside to Biologics Is Lower Immunity, Increased Risk of Shingles, Others Find

RA, Biologics & Life Expectancy Study

In another study of nearly 9,000 RA patients, German researchers found those on the anti-TNF drugs had about half the risk of death as those on DMARDs during the follow-up period of about 3.5 years.

Nearly the same benefit was found for those on rituximab (Rituxan), another type of biologic treatment that suppresses the immune system inflammatory response and is often used with anti-TNFs when anti-TNFs don't work well enough

The study was sponsored by Abbott and other drug companies.

A third study found that early control and resolution of disease activity, when achieved with RA medicines, is linked with better overall survival in those with RA affecting more than four joints.

Researchers evaluated more than 2,700 RA patients and followed them up for about nine years. Those who were in remission a year after the first assessment had the biggest reduction in death risk, about 25% or more.

RA, Biologics, & Shingles Risk

For the shingles study, Helene Che of the Lapeyronie Hospital in Montpellier re-evaluated 22 published studies and 28 abstracts.

Patients were on DMARDs and biologics.

Those on anti-TNFs had a 75% higher risk of getting shingles than those on DMARDs.

Perspectives on Biologics for RA

The studies about heart attack prevention and better survival are confirming previous research, says Patience White, MD, vice president for public health at the Arthritis Foundation. She reviewed the findings for WebMD.

The research is also ''confirming that remission, which we can do with these new biologics, is really important, not only in improving joint pain and disability but now for death risk," she says.

Vivian Bykerk, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, also reviewed the findings. She put the shingles risk in perspective.

While 75% may sound like a large increase, Bykerk says it "would still be less than double a small number."

Patients considering the shingles vaccine should get it before they start the anti-TNFs, she says.

Bykerk has consulted for companies that make biologics.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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