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Window of Opportunity for Treating Early Rheumatoid Arthritis
June 14, 2007
A window of opportunity exists for intensive combination therapy with
the disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) methotrexate (MTX)
and cyclosporine and/or the corticosteroid prednisone, providing
significant sustained benefits on damage and disability for patients
with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
These data from the multicenter, randomized, double-blind,
factorial Combination of Anti-Rheumatic Drugs in Early RA (CARDERA)
trial were presented here by principal investigator Ernest H. Choy, MD,
director, Sir Alfred Baring Garrod Clinical Trials Unit, King's College
London, London, United Kingdom, at the Annual European Congress of
"Rheumatoid arthritis progresses very rapidly during the early phases,
which is the reason why we inverted the treatment pyramid and argued
that the patient should be started promptly on disease-modifying
antirheumatic drugs," said Dr. Choy in an oral presentation on June
13th on behalf of the CARDERA investigators.
Randomized clinical trials have suggested an early window of
opportunity for the treatment of patients with RA, whereby optimal
conventional therapy can change the disease course by the addition of
corticosteroids and DMARDs.
As there remains a lack of randomized trials that allow definition of
the relative contributions of these agents, the CARDERA trial was
designed to answer this through a factorial design using a 2x2
According to Dr. Choy, patients in the study were divided into four
groups: one group received methotrexate alone, one received
methotrexate and cyclosporine, a third group received methotrexate and
corticosteroids, and the last group received all three agents together.
All patients were treated at a target dose methotrexate of at 15
mg/week, with the option to increase to 25 mg/week. For prednisone, the
COBRA treatment regime was followed for a total of 9 months, tapered
daily doses from 60 mg (weeks 1, 2) to 7.5 mg (weeks 7-28) to
withdrawal (week 35). Cyclosporine was started 3 months after the start
of methotrexate, in case of early toxicity problems, and it was raised
from 100 mg/day to the 3-mg/kg/day target dose, again with the option
to go to 5 mg/kg/day.
The inclusion criteria were early RA with active synovitis, disease no
more than 2 years prior to study entry. Patients previously treated
with methotrexate were excluded, as were patients with
contraindications to the trial drugs.
Primary outcome was the proportion of patients with one or more new
erosions on x-rays of hands and feet at 24 months. Secondary outcomes
were total Larsen score, disease activity score, disability score on
the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), number of serious adverse
effects, and quality-of-life 36-question Short Form Questionnaire. All
assessments were performed every 6 months.
From the initial 1,391 patients assessed for eligibility, 467 were
randomized to one of four treatment groups: 117 to methotrexate (mean
age, 54 years; male, 34%); 119 to MTX+C (mean age, 53 years; male,
34%); 115 to methotrexate + prednisone (mean age, 54 years; male, 22%);
and 116 to methotrexate + cyclosporine + prednisone (mean age, 55
years; male, 33%). The groups were similar in terms of baseline
More than 60% of the patients were rheumatoid factor
positive, about 20% of patients had rheumatoid nodules, and 30% of
patients had erosions.
In comparison with methotrexate alone, addition of
cyclosporine and prednisone either alone or in the triple combination
resulted in 50% fewer new erosions.
For the disease activity score, as a scale of 1 to 9, a
reduction of 1.2 provided a moderate to good response. Addition of
prednisone to methotrexate resulted in a rapid decrease in disease
activity, although when it was withdrawn (after 9 months) there was
recurrence of disease activity, with no benefits by the end of 24
"Interestingly," indicated Dr. Choy, "despite the 50%
reduction in radiographic damage by cyclosporine, there was really no
difference in the disease activity score between methotrexate only and
methotrexate plus cyclosporine, so whatever cyclosporine achieved, it
did so independently from the disease activity control of
For the HAQ score, triple therapy was best by end of
the study, and according to the factorial trial design, prednisone plus
cyclosporine were significantly more beneficial according to the HAQ
score than either drug alone (P =.01). The same was seen for the
Dr. Choy also described a more detailed consideration
of the progression of erosive damage over the 2-year period, indicating
lower erosive damage with prednisone in year 1, and methotrexate and
cyclosporine in year 2.
No differences were seen in serious adverse events
across the four treatment groups, with the exception of hypertension,
which was associated with cyclosporine use.
Therefore, in patients with early RA, there is this
window of opportunity whereby the 50% reduction in structural damage
provided by 9 months of step-down corticosteroids is maintained at 2
years. Furthermore, cyclosporine also reduced structural damage by 50%
in an effect that was independent of any reduction in disease activity,
and cyclosporine and prednisone showed a statistically significant
positive interaction on the improvement of patient physical function.
The study drugs with placebo were provided by Novartis and Wyeth.
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