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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

The loss of health status in rheumatoid arthritis and the effect of biologic therapy: a longitudinal observational study

Frederick Wolfe* and Kaleb Michaud

Author Affiliations

National Data Bank for Rheumatic Diseases, 1035 N. Emporia, Suite 288, Wichita, KS 67214, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:R35  doi:10.1186/ar2944

See related editorial by Scott and Kingsley,

Published: 2 March 2010



The long-term course of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in terms of health status is not well understood, nor is the degree of effectiveness of biologic therapy in the community. We modeled the progression of loss of health status, and measured incremental costs and effectiveness of biologic therapy in the community.


We studied change in function and health status in 18,485 RA patients (135,731 observations) at six-month intervals for up to 11 years, including a group of 4,911 patients (59,630 observations) who switched to biologic therapy from non-biologic therapy. We measured the SF-36 Physical Component (PCS) and Mental Component (MCS) Summary scales, the EQ-5D health utility scale, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) disability scale; and we calculated treatment and direct medical costs.


RA onset caused an immediate and substantial reduction in physical but not mental health status. Thereafter, the progression of dysfunction in RA was very slow (HAQ 0.016 units and PCS -0.125 units annually), only slightly worse than the age and sex-adjusted US population. We estimated biologic treatment to improve HAQ by 0.29 units, PCS by 5.3 units, and EQ-5D by 0.05 units over a 10-year period. The estimated incremental 10-year total direct medical cost for this benefit was $159,140.


Biologic therapy retards RA progression, but its effect is far less than is seen in clinical trials. In the community, cost-effectiveness is substantially less than that estimated from clinical trial data. The study results represent the incremental benefit of adding biologic therapy to optimum non-biologic therapy.