The study, published in The Lancet, included 542 rheumatoid arthritis patients in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia.
For two years, all of the patients took methotrexate pills. Methotrexate has long been a cornerstone of rheumatoid arthritis treatment. The patients also got a weekly injection -- some got shots of the biologic drug Enbrel; others got a placebo shot.
So far, results are in for the first year of the study.
During that time, half of the patients taking Enbrel and methotrexate had their rheumatoid arthritis go into remission, compared to 28% of those taking methotrexate alone. And rheumatoid arthritis at least didn't worsen on X-ray in 80% of the Enbrel-plus-methotrexate group, compared to 59% of those only taking methotrexate.
Side effects were similar in both groups, according to the researchers, who included Paul Emery, MD, a professor at the University of Leeds in England.
Enbrel is marketed in the U.S. by the drug companies Amgen and Wyeth. Wyeth funded and designed the study, collected the data, and helped analyze the data, according to The Lancet.
An editorial published with the study points out that methotrexate injections might have been more effective than oral methotrexate.
The long-term risks, benefits, and cost-effectiveness of Enbrel-plus-methotrexate treatment should also be studied, notes editorialist Joel Kremer, MD, of the Center for Rheumatology at Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y.