Skip to content


Arthritis Research & Therapy

Open Access

Response to ‘Feasibility of tailored treatment based on risk stratification in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis’

Arthritis Research & Therapy201517:166

Received: 20 April 2015

Accepted: 10 June 2015

Published: 20 June 2015


Early Rheumatoid ArthritisHealth Assessment QuestionnaireSwell Joint CountHealth Assessment Questionnaire ScorePoor Prognosis Patient

Markusse and colleagues recently investigated whether rheumatoid arthritis patient subgroups formed according to the presence of poor prognostic factors respond differently to initial monotherapy or combination therapy [1]. Since both poor- and good-prognosis subgroups experienced a better response to initial combination therapy, the authors concluded that patient-tailored treatment based on prognosis as suggested by the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations [2] is currently not feasible.

As a general remark, the authors should be reminded that the EULAR recommendations primarily suggest combination of methotrexate with low-dose glucocorticoids because its efficacy is not surpassed by biologicals and it prevents overtreatment in 20 to 25 % of patients [3, 4]; delaying tumor necrosis factor-inhibitor initiation by 6 months does not affect outcomes [5]. Moreover, the definitions of poor prognosis (PP) used by Markusse and colleagues contrast with the stratification suggested by EULAR, which, as their paper’s supplementary files highlight, influences outcomes [2]. We therefore recommend that readers look at the supplementary information before drawing conclusions.

Markusse and colleagues propose the presence of three of four characteristics as the definition of PP (erosions, rheumatoid factor/anti-citrullinated protein antibody combination, swollen joint count, elevated Disease Activity Score). In contrast, the definition of PP established by Visser and colleagues in the same trial population (sic) uses a different approach, namely C-reactive protein, erosion score and rheumatoid factor/anti-citrullinated protein antibody combination, to determine who had >50 % chance of rapid radiographic progression (≥5 Sharp–van der Heijde Score (SHS) units/year) [5]. The median SHS progression between initial combination therapy and initial monotherapy in PP patients differed only 1.5 SHS units in Markusse and colleagues’ model, but by 3.5 units in that of Visser and colleagues. Of the initial monotherapy patients in Visser’s and Markusse’s models, 64 % and 26 %, respectively, had rapid radiographic progression whereas this proportion was only 12 % and 10 % for initial combination therapy. This observation highlights that the definition of PP used by Visser and colleagues (provided only as supplementary material), in line with other work [6], is much better at identifying a PP population.

The odds of response to initial combination therapy versus initial monotherapy in the PP versus non-PP populations were much higher when using Visser and colleagues’ approach versus Markusse and colleagues’ approach (odds ratio of American College of Rheumatology 20/50/70: 10.0, 9.74, 9.33 vs. 2.72, 5.39, 4.22, respectively). Separation of the Health Assessment Questionnaire score between PP and non-PP patients treated with initial combination therapy is only seen with Visser and colleagues’ definition. This highlights that definition of PP influences the effect of clinical outcomes.

In accordance with the EULAR research agenda [2], we also believe it is important to study what effect patient stratification based on poor prognosis parameters has on clinical outcomes. Alas, we feel that Markusse and colleagues’ study did not address the question appropriately and therefore does not provide a good answer.




European League Against Rheumatism


Poor prognosis


Sharp–van der Heijde Score.


Authors’ Affiliations

Department of Medical Affairs, MSD Denmark ApS, Ballerup, Denmark
UPMC-Paris 6 University, GRC 08, Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health, Paris, France
AP-HP, Department of Rheumatology, Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris, France
Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine 3, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria


  1. Markusse IM, de Vries-Bouwstra JK, Han K, van der Lubbe PA, Schouffoer AA, Kerstens PJ, et al. Feasibility of tailored treatment based on risk stratification in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2014;16:430.PubMed CentralPubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar
  2. Smolen JS, Landewé R, Breedveld FC, Buch M, Burmester G, Dougados M, et al. EULAR recommendations for the management of rheumatoid arthritis with synthetic and biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs: 2013 update. Ann Rheum Dis. 2014;73:492–509.PubMed CentralPubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar
  3. Wevers-de Boer K, Visser K, Heimans L, Ronday HK, Molenaar E, Groenendael JH, et al. Remission induction therapy with methotrexate and prednisone in patients with early rheumatoid and undifferentiated arthritis (the IMPROVED study). Ann Rheum Dis. 2012;71:1472–7.PubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar
  4. Smolen JS, Emery P, Fleischmann R, van Vollenhoven RF, Pavelka K, Durez P, et al. Adjustment of therapy in rheumatoid arthritis on the basis of achievement of stable low disease activity with adalimumab plus methotrexate or methotrexate alone: the randomised controlled OPTIMA trial. Lancet. 2014;383:321–32. Erratum. Lancet. 2014;383:308.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  5. Visser K, Goekoop-Ruiterman YP, de Vries-Bouwstra JK, Ronday HK, Seys PE, Kerstens PJ, et al. A matrix risk model for the prediction of rapid radiographic progression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis receiving different dynamic treatment strategies: post hoc analyses from the BeSt study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2010;69:1333–7.PubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar
  6. Vastesaeger N, Xu S, Aletaha D, St Clair EW, Smolen JS. A pilot risk model for the prediction of rapid radiographic progression in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2009;48:1114–21.View ArticleGoogle Scholar


© Vastesaeger et al. 2015

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.