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Tapering of Biological Antirheumatic Drugs in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Is Achievable and Cost-Effective in Daily Clinical Practice: Data From the Brussels UCLouvain RA Cohort


Arthritis Res Ther. 2020 Apr 28;22(1):96.doi: 10.1186/s13075-020-02165-4.

Stéphanie Dierckx 1, Tatiana Sokolova 1, Bernard R Lauwerys 1, Aleksandra Avramovska 1, Laurent Meric de Bellefon 1, Adrien Nzeusseu Toukap 1, Maria Stoenoiu 1, Frédéric A Houssiau 1, Patrick Durez 2

Author Information

  • 1Rheumatology, Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc - Université catholique de Louvain - Institut de Recherche Expérimentale et Clinique (IREC), Brussels, Belgium.
  • 2Rheumatology, Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc - Université catholique de Louvain - Institut de Recherche Expérimentale et Clinique (IREC), Brussels, Belgium. patrick.durez@uclouvain.be.


Background/purpose: Studies have demonstrated that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients who achieve low disease activity or remission are able to taper biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs). The aim of this study was to evaluate the proportion of patients in whom bDMARDs can be tapered in daily practice and to analyse the characteristics of these patients. Other objectives were to analyse which bDMARDs are more suitable for dose reduction and the cost savings.

Results: Data from 332 eligible RA patients from our Brussels UCLouvain cohort were retrospectively analysed; 140 patients (42.1%) received a tapered regimen, and 192 received stable doses of bDMARDs. The age at diagnosis (43.1 vs 38.7 years, p = 0.04), health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) score (1.3 vs 1.5, p = 0.048), RF positivity rate (83.3 vs 72.9%, p = 0.04) and disease duration at the time of bDMARD introduction (9.7 vs 12.1 years, p = 0.034) were significantly different between the reduced-dose and stable-dose groups. Interestingly, relatively more patients receiving a tapered dose were treated with a combination of bDMARDs and methotrexate (MTX) (86.7% vs 73.8%, p = 0.005). In our cohort, anti-TNF agents were the most commonly prescribed medications (68%). Only 15 patients experienced a flare during follow-up. Adalimumab, etanercept and rituximab were the most common bDMARDs in the reduced-dose group and were associated with the most important reductions in annual cost.

Conclusion: In daily practice, tapering bDMARDs in RA patients who have achieved low disease activity or remission is an achievable goal in a large proportion of patients, thereby reducing potential side effects and annual drug-associated costs. The combination of bDMARDs with MTX could improve the success of dose reduction attempts.

Trial registration: This retrospective non-interventional study was retrospectively registered with local ethics approval.