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Drug Combos Effective Against Rheumatoid Arthritis
Date:11/26/2007

Older and newer medicine together often bring relief, study finds

MONDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Combining an older synthetic drug with a newer, "biologic" medication may work best to ease the joint swelling and tenderness of rheumatoid arthritis, a new study finds.

There are many therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, but the newer drugs are not better than older ones when used alone, the report's authors found.

"There are no clinically important differences among the older synthetic drugs or among the newer biologic drugs," said lead researcher Dr. Katrina E. Donahue, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "There are combination therapies that do work better than using one drug in people not responding to one drug alone," she said.

Combining a synthetic with a biologic appears to work best, Donahue said. However, which combinations are most effective still isn't clear. In addition, the short-term side effects appear to be the same for both types of drugs, she added.

In the study, Donahue's team reviewed 23 published studies that compared the benefits and harms of different rheumatoid arthritis drugs. These included, synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologic DMARDs, and corticosteroids.

Synthetic DMARDs include hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), leflunomide (Arava), methotrexate (Trexall) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine). Biologic DMARDs include abatacept (Orencia), adalimumab (Humira), anakinra (Kineret), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and rituximab (Rituxan). Corticosteroids include drugs such as prednisone.

Donahue's group found that combining methotrexate with a biologic DMARD worked better than methotrexate or a biologic alone. They also found that methotrexate was as effective as the biologics adalimumab and etanercept in early rheumatoid arthritis.

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