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New targeted therapies and improved treatment strategies have dramatically improved the outcomes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, it is unknown whether different early aggressive interventions can induce stable remission or a low-active disease state that can be maintained with conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (csDMARD) therapy, and whether they differ in efficacy and safety. The Nordic Rheumatic Diseases Strategy Trials And Registries (NORD-STAR) study will assess and compare (1) the proportion of patients who achieve remission in a head-to-head comparison between csDMARD plus glucocorticoid therapy and three different biological DMARD (bDMARD) therapies with different modes of action and (2) two de-escalation strategies in patients who respond to first-line therapy.
In a pragmatic, 80–160-week, multicenter, randomized, open-label, assessor-blinded, phase 4 study, 800 patients with early RA (symptom duration less than 24 months) are randomized 1:1:1:1 to one of four different treatment arms: (1) aggressive csDMARD therapy with methotrexate + sulphasalazine + hydroxychloroquine + i.a. glucocorticoids (arm 1A) or methotrexate + prednisolone p.o. (arm 1B), (2) methotrexate + certolizumab-pegol, (3) methotrexate + abatacept, or (4) methotrexate + tocilizumab. The primary clinical endpoint is the proportion of patients reaching Clinical Disease Activity Index (CDAI) remission at week 24. Patients in stable remission over 24 consecutive weeks enter part 2 of the study earliest after 48 weeks. Patients not achieving sustained CDAI remission over 24 consecutive weeks, exit the study after 80 weeks. In part 2, patients are re-randomized to two different de-escalation strategies, either immediate or delayed (after 24 weeks) tapering, followed by cessation of study medication. All patients remain on stable doses of methotrexate. The primary clinical endpoint in part 2 is the proportion of patients in remission (CDAI ≤2.8) 24 weeks after initiating treatment de-escalation. Radiographic assessment will be performed regularly throughout the trial, and blood and urine samples will be stored in a biobank for later biomarker analyses.
NORD-STAR is the first investigator-initiated, randomized, early RA trial to compare (1) csDMARD and three different bDMARD therapies head to head and (2) two different de-escalation strategies. The trial has the potential to identify which treatment strategy to apply in early RA to achieve the best possible outcomes for both patients and society.