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Comparative effectiveness of first-line biological monotherapy use in rheumatoid arthritis: a retrospective analysis of the RECord-linkage On Rheumatic Diseases study on health care administrative databases

11 Sep 2018


These analyses aim to comparatively evaluate the persistence on treatment of different biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) when administered in monotherapy compared with combination with conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (csDMARDs) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients receiving first-line biologics.


This is a retrospective observational study on Administrative Healthcare Databases.


Data were extracted from healthcare databases of the Lombardy Region, Italy (2004–2013), as a part of the RECord-linkage On Rheumatic Diseases study, on behalf of the Italian Society for Rheumatology. Analyses included patients with RA starting first-line approved course of bDMARDs and evaluated drug survival by using Cox proportional hazard models. Results are presented as HRs and 95% CI, crude and adjusted for prespecified confounders (age, sex, disease duration, Charlson Comorbidity Index (CCI), previous infections, use of concomitant glucocorticoids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)).


4478 patients with RA were included (17.84% monotherapy). Etanercept, adalimumab and infliximab were the most prescribed first-line biologics. bDMARD monotherapy was associated with longer disease duration, higher CCI, lower glucocorticoids and NSAIDs use. Compared with monotherapy, combination associated with a lower risk of failure (adjusted HR 0.79, 95% CI 0.72 to 0.88). Among monotherapies, considering etanercept as reference, adalimumab (1.28, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.59) and infliximab (2.41, 95% CI 1.85 to 3.15) had higher risk of failure. Concomitant methotrexate (0.78, 95% CI 0.70 to 0.87), leflunomide (0.80, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.98) or csDMARD combinations (0.77, 95% CI 0.68 to 0.87) reduced the risk of bDMARD withdrawal.


Adalimumab and infliximab monotherapies show lower retention rate compared with etanercept. The relatively small number of therapeutic courses different from tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors makes more difficult to achieve conclusive results with other biologics. Concomitant methotrexate, leflunomide and csDMARDs combination associate with longer survival on bDMARD. Our data confirm the effectiveness of the current practices in the choice of etanercept as first-line anti-TNF monotherapy and strengthen the currently recommended use of bDMARDs in combination with csDMARDs.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open