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Drug Combo Improves Remission of Rheumatoid Arthritis

WEDNESDAY, July 16 -- Patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis benefited from combining the drugs methotrexate and Enbrel (etanercept), new research found.

The combination improved both remission and radiographic non-progression rates within one year compared with the standard treatment of methotrexate alone.

Patients on this regimen were also more likely to stay employed, according to a study in the current issue of The Lancet. The study was funded by Wyeth, the maker of Enbrel.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, some 1.3 million Americans live with rheumatoid arthritis, thought to be an autoimmune disease. The disease involves inflammation of the joints which can lead to both pain and disability. There is no cure for the condition, although several drugs can provide relief.

More than 500 outpatients who had not previously tried methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug, were randomly selected to receive either methotrexate alone (with the dosage increasing regularly) or methotrexate plus 50 milligrams a week of Enbrel.

Half of the patients receiving both drugs went into remission, while 94 percent had a "good/moderate" response. Only 28 percent on methotrexate alone went into remission, according to the study.

And, those on the combination therapy were three times less likely to have to stop working, compared with those taking methotrexate alone, said the study authors, from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust in the United Kingdom.

Almost a quarter of patients who were working at the beginning of the trial and who were in the single-drug arm had to stop work by the end of one year, compared with only about 10 percent in the combination group.

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Posted: July 2008