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Intensive therapy for moderate established rheumatoid arthritis: the TITRATE research programme

Scott, D. L., Ibrahim, F., Hill, H. , Tom, B., Prothero, L. ORCID: 0000-0002-5385-0397, Baggott, R. R., Bosworth, A., Galloway, J. B., Georgopoulou, S., Martin, N., Neatrour, I., Nikiphorou, E., Sturt, J., Wailoo, A., Williams, F. M. K., Williams, R. & Lempp, H. (2021). Intensive therapy for moderate established rheumatoid arthritis: the TITRATE research programme. Programme Grants for Applied Research, 9(8), pp. 1-186. doi: 10.3310/pgfar09080


Rheumatoid arthritis is a major inflammatory disorder and causes substantial disability. Treatment goals span minimising disease activity, achieving remission and decreasing disability. In active rheumatoid arthritis, intensive management achieves these goals. As many patients with established rheumatoid arthritis have moderate disease activity, the TITRATE (Treatment Intensities and Targets in Rheumatoid Arthritis ThErapy) programme assessed the benefits of intensive management.

To (1) define how to deliver intensive therapy in moderate established rheumatoid arthritis; (2) establish its clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in a trial; and (3) evaluate evidence supporting intensive management in observational studies and completed trials.

Observational studies, secondary analyses of completed trials and systematic reviews assessed existing evidence about intensive management. Qualitative research, patient workshops and systematic reviews defined how to deliver it. The trial assessed its clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in moderate established rheumatoid arthritis.

Observational studies (in three London centres) involved 3167 patients. These were supplemented by secondary analyses of three previously completed trials (in centres across all English regions), involving 668 patients. Qualitative studies assessed expectations (nine patients in four London centres) and experiences of intensive management (15 patients in 10 centres across England). The main clinical trial enrolled 335 patients with diverse socioeconomic deprivation and ethnicity (in 39 centres across all English regions).

Patients with established moderately active rheumatoid arthritis receiving conventional disease-modifying drugs.

Intensive management used combinations of conventional disease-modifying drugs, biologics (particularly tumour necrosis factor inhibitors) and depot steroid injections; nurses saw patients monthly, adjusted treatment and provided supportive person-centred psychoeducation. Control patients received standard care.

Main outcome measures
Disease Activity Score for 28 joints based on the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (DAS28-ESR)-categorised patients (active to remission). Remission (DAS28-ESR < 2.60) was the treatment target. Other outcomes included fatigue (measured on a 100-mm visual analogue scale), disability (as measured on the Health Assessment Questionnaire), harms and resource use for economic assessments.

Evaluation of existing evidence for intensive rheumatoid arthritis management showed the following. First, in observational studies, DAS28-ESR scores decreased over 10–20 years, whereas remissions and treatment intensities increased. Second, in systematic reviews of published trials, all intensive management strategies increased remissions. Finally, patients with high disability scores had fewer remissions. Qualitative studies of rheumatoid arthritis patients, workshops and systematic reviews helped develop an intensive management pathway. A 2-day training session for rheumatology practitioners explained its use, including motivational interviewing techniques and patient handbooks. The trial screened 459 patients and randomised 335 patients (168 patients received intensive management and 167 patients received standard care). A total of 303 patients provided 12-month outcome data. Intention-to-treat analysis showed intensive management increased DAS28-ESR 12-month remissions, compared with standard care (32% vs. 18%, odds ratio 2.17, 95% confidence interval 1.28 to 3.68; p = 0.004), and reduced fatigue [mean difference –18, 95% confidence interval –24 to –11 (scale 0–100); p < 0.001]. Disability (as measured on the Health Assessment Questionnaire) decreased when intensive management patients achieved remission (difference –0.40, 95% confidence interval –0.57 to –0.22) and these differences were considered clinically relevant. However, in all intensive management patients reductions in the Health Assessment Questionnaire scores were less marked (difference –0.1, 95% confidence interval –0.2 to 0.0). The numbers of serious adverse events (intensive management n = 15 vs. standard care n = 11) and other adverse events (intensive management n = 114 vs. standard care n = 151) were similar. Economic analysis showed that the base-case incremental cost-effectiveness ratio was £43,972 from NHS and Personal Social Services cost perspectives. The probability of meeting a willingness-to-pay threshold of £30,000 was 17%. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio decreased to £29,363 after including patients’ personal costs and lost working time, corresponding to a 50% probability that intensive management is cost-effective at English willingness-to-pay thresholds. Analysing trial baseline predictors showed that remission predictors comprised baseline DAS28-ESR, disability scores and body mass index. A 6-month extension study (involving 95 intensive management patients) showed fewer remissions by 18 months, although more sustained remissions were more likley to persist. Qualitative research in trial completers showed that intensive management was acceptable and treatment support from specialist nurses was beneficial.

The main limitations comprised (1) using single time point remissions rather than sustained responses, (2) uncertainty about benefits of different aspects of intensive management and differences in its delivery across centres, (3) doubts about optimal treatment of patients unresponsive to intensive management and (4) the lack of formal international definitions of ‘intensive management’.

The benefits of intensive management need to be set against its additional costs. These were relatively high. Not all patients benefited. Patients with high pretreatment physical disability or who were substantially overweight usually did not achieve remission.

Future work
Further research should (1) identify the most effective components of the intervention, (2) consider its most cost-effective delivery and (3) identify alternative strategies for patients not responding to intensive management.

Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN70160382.

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research programme and will be published in full in Programme Grants for Applied Research; Vol. 9, No. 8. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright © 2021 Scott et al. This work was produced by Scott et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This is an Open Access publication distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 4.0 licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaption in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. See: For attribution the title, original author(s), the publication source – NIHR Journals Library, and the DOI of the publication must be cited.
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Optometry & Visual Sciences
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