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Drug combination improves arthritis outcomes

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A combination of the drugs methotrexate and etanercept can significantly improve outcomes in patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to an international study.

Researchers studied 542 patients with RA. Half took methotrexate alone – between 7.5mg and 20mg a week - and the rest took methotrexate plus 50mg of etanercept weekly.

After a year, the researchers found that half of the patients who took both drugs achieved clinical remission compared to just under a third of those who took methotrexate alone.

Almost 60% of those in the combination group had no swollen joints after a year, compared to 38% of those on single therapy. Four out of five patients taking both drugs also had no progression of joint damage after 52 weeks, compared to just under 60% of those on methotrexate alone, the researchers said.

In the monotherapy group, nearly a quarter of patients who were employed at the start of the study had to stop work at least once during the year due to their condition. Only one tenth of those on both drugs had to give up work, the researchers added.

‘Intensive but safe treatments have the potential to improve long-term outcomes. These study results suggest remission is an achievable goal in patients with early severe rheumatoid arthritis,’ the authors said online in The Lancet.

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