Reduction of the efficacy of methotrexate by the use of folic acid: Post hoc analysis from two randomized controlled studies

Authors


Abstract

Objective

To examine the effect of folic acid on the efficacy of methotrexate (MTX) treatment in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at 12 months in 2 phase III randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of leflunomide in which MTX was used as a comparator.

Methods

Analyses were restricted to patients randomized to receive MTX who had rheumatoid factor data. The US study recruited 482 patients with active RA; 179 received at least 1 dose of MTX, and all were mandated to receive 1 mg of oral folic acid once or twice daily. The multinational European study recruited 999 patients with active RA; 489 received at least 1 dose of MTX, and oral folic acid was not required, although 50 received folate after developing an adverse event. Because of similar entry criteria for both studies, the data for patients with available primary outcome data at week 52 were pooled (n = 668), and the patients were grouped by folic acid use (n = 225) and nonuse (n = 443). To account for the significant between-study differences in the MTX groups, baseline covariates were adjusted using propensity scores so that folic acid users could be matched with nonusers. This allowed for a comparison of differences in American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 20% improvement criteria at week 52.

Results

At study entry, non–folic acid users had a significantly lower mean body weight, shorter mean RA duration, and higher mean disease activity (measured by joint counts, patient's and physician's global assessments, and acute-phase reactant levels). The mean MTX dosage at week 52 was similar in the 2 RCTs. Using propensity score matching techniques, the proportion of patients achieving an ACR 20% response at week 52 averaged 17% higher in the non–folic acid group than in the folic acid group (range 15–21%). Similarly, the proportion of patients achieving ACR 50% and ACR 70% responses averaged 14% (range 12–16%) and 12% (range 9–14%) higher, respectively, in the non–folic acid group. Adverse events were reported in 93% of US study patients and 94% of the multinational study patients. Elevated liver transaminase levels (above the upper limit of normal) were reported in 29% of the US study patients (majority receiving folic acid) and 62% of the multinational study patients (majority not receiving folic acid).

Conclusion

After using propensity scores to adjust for differences in the baseline characteristics of folic acid users and non–folic acid users, 9–21% fewer MTX-treated RA patients taking folic acid had ACR 20%, 50%, or 70% improvement at 52 weeks compared with those who did not receive folic acid in the 2 phase III RA clinical trials. As a post hoc analysis, the results of this data analysis should be considered “hypothesis generating” and an impetus for future studies regarding the effects of folic acid on the efficacy of MTX in RA.

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