• Vol. 36 No. 2, 128–134
  • 15 February 2007

The Use of Biological Agents in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis



Rheumatoid arthritis is a common and potentially devastating condition which did not have good treatment options until recently. Pharmacological treatment should not just comprise anti-inflammatory agents and corticosteroids. The current therapeutic approach is to start a disease modifying agent early in the illness to prevent eventual joint damage. Older disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) include methotrexate, sulphasalazine and hydroxychloroquine. Newer ones such as leflunomide and cyclosporine are also used. A recent advance in the management of rheumatoid arthritis is the use of biological agents which block certain key molecules involved in the pathogenesis of the illness. They include tumour necrosis factor (TNF)- blocking agents such as infliximab, etanercept and adalimumab, the anti-CD 20 agent rituximab and CTLA-4 Ig abatacept. Other agents which are in development include anti-IL6 tocilizumab, anti-CD22 and anti-lymphostat B. In this review, the efficacy and side effects of these agents, their impact on current clinical practice and future trends are discussed.

The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has gone through many major changes in the past 100 years. Historically, it was essentially untreatable and many patients like the French impressionist painter Renoir had to live with the ravages of the disease through sheer courage and determination. In 1948, the use of corticosteroids was introduced which seemed at first to be anextremely effective treatment but the severe side effects of long-term therapy soon limited their use.

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