Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes substantial morbidity and mortality, and current treatments are suboptimal. Recent studies have demonstrated the short-term efficacy of minocycline in the treatment of patients with early RA. This study was undertaken to compare patients treated with conventional therapy in the early phase of their RA and those treated with minocycline, after 4 years of followup.
Forty-six patients with seropositive RA of <1 year's duration had been enrolled in a double-blind study of minocycline (100 mg twice daily) versus placebo. After the blinded portion of the study (3–6 months, depending upon response), all patients were treated with conventional therapy. This report compares those patients randomized to receive placebo for 3 months and then conventional therapy for the duration of 4 years versus those originally randomized to receive minocycline.
Twenty of the 23 original minocycline-treated patients and 18 of the 23 original placebo-treated patients were available for followup (mean 4 years). At followup, RA was in remission (American College of Rheumatology criteria) without disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) or steroid therapy in 8 of the patients originally treated with minocycline compared with 1 patient in the placebo group (P = 0.02). Ten patients in the minocycline group versus 16 in the original placebo group currently require DMARD therapy (P = 0.02).
Among patients with seropositive RA, remissions are more frequent and the need for DMARD therapy is less in those treated early in the disease course with minocycline compared with those treated with conventional therapy delayed by an average of only 3 months. Minocycline appears to be an effective therapy for early RA; further investigation into its mechanism of action is needed.