Costs for Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments Could Drop According to Study

Changing the combination of existing drugs could help patients save thousands of dollars in annual prescription costs.

Patients being treated for rheumatoid arthritis could see their health care costs take a noticeable drop according to the results of a recent study.

The study, published in The Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, looked at ways to treat the condition at a lower cost to patients while using less medication. A statement about the study, known as CareRA, said the work was conducted by a team at University Hospitals Leuven in partnership with other centers in the Flanders region of Belgium. The goal, the statement noted, was to find the best use of methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and leflunomide in conjunction with glucocorticoids to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

For the study, researchers recruited a group of 290 patients deemed early in their diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. The group was then divided into three subgroups that each received different combinations of the drugs. The three groups all showed similar levels of efficacy, with 7 out of 10 patients reaching remission status after 16 weeks.

One considerable difference between groups, according to the authors, was the side effects experienced by the patients. The group of patients who received methotrexate and a moderate amount of glucocorticoids reported “half as many side effects as the other two strategies — and was just as effective,” the statement said.

“One surprising finding in the study was the high remission values recorded for all of the applied intensive treatment strategies, which were unprecedented internationally,” noted Diedrick De Cock, doctoral researcher at the Research Centre for Skeletal Biology and Engineering (KU Leuven).

As for the most successful combination, De Cock said, “Methotrexate is very affordable as are steroids.” He added that in Belgium alone this treatment approach could save patients thousands of Euros every year. He estimated that patients currently paying 15,000 Euros for biologicals could see their out-of-pocket expenses drop to 1000 Euros with the new plan. “In other words, we can treat up to 15 patients for the same price as a year of treatment with a biological,” he said.

The study was supported by the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology and the Pfizer Chair for Early Rheumatoid Arthritis Management at the KU Leuven.