Rituximab for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: an update
Chi Chiu Mok
Department of Medicine, Tuen Mun Hospital, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
Abstract: Rituximab is a chimeric monoclonal antibody that targets the CD20 molecule expressed on the surface of B cells. It was first used in the treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and later approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that does not respond adequately to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, including the anti-tumor-necrosis-factor (TNF) biologics. Sustained efficacy in RA can be achieved by repeated courses of rituximab. However, the optimal dose and retreatment schedule of rituximab in RA remains to be established. Seropositivity, complete B cell depletion shortly after treatment, and previous failure to no more than one anti-TNF agent are three factors associated with greater clinical benefits to rituximab. Infusion reaction to the first dose of rituximab occurs in approximately 25% of RA patients, and the incidence reduces with subsequent exposure. Immunogenicity to the chimeric compound occurs in 11% of RA patients, but this does not correlate with its efficacy in B cell depletion. Extended observation of randomized controlled trials in RA does not reveal a significant increase in the incidence of serious infections related to rituximab compared to placebo groups, and the infection rate remains static over time. Repeated treatment with rituximab is associated with hypogammaglobulinemia, which may increase the risk of serious, but rarely opportunistic, infections. Reactivation of occult hepatitis B infection has been reported in RA patients receiving rituximab, but no increase in the incidence of tuberculosis was observed. Screening for baseline serum immunoglobulin G level and hepatitis B status (including occult infection) is important, especially in Asian countries where hepatitis B infection is prevalent. The rare but fatal progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy linked to the use of rituximab has to be noted. Postmarketing surveillance and registry data, particularly in Asia, are necessary to establish the long-term efficacy and safety of rituximab in the treatment of RA.
Keywords: biologics, B-cell depletion, rheumatoid arthritis, prognosis