Objectives EULAR recommendations do not suggest which biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (bDMARD) should be preferred after failure of a first bDMARD in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In particular, few data are available regarding the effectiveness of a second-line bDMARD after failure of abatacept (ABA), tocilizumab (TCZ), and rituximab (RTX). The aim of this study was to analyze the retention rate of a second line with tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) or other mechanisms of action (MoAs), after the failure of either RTX, TCZ, or ABA. Methods Two hundred and seventy-eight RA patients from the Italian GISEA registry were included in the study. RTX was the first bDMARD in 18% of patients, ABA in 45.7%, and TCZ in 36.3%, while the second bDMARD was a TNFi (group 1) in 129 patients and an agent with a different MoA (group 2) in 149. Results During a median follow-up of 22 months (IQR 68), 129 patients discontinued their treatment; patients of group 1 discontinued the treatment more frequently than patients of group 2 (p<0.001) with retention rates of 33.6 +/- 5.7% and 63.6 +/- 4.6% after 104 weeks for group 1 and group 2, respectively (p<0.001). At multivariate analysis, the mechanism of action was the only predictor for the maintenance in therapy. Conclusions According to our data, ABA, RTX, and TCZ seem to maintain a good retention rate also when used as a second-line therapy, suggesting their use after the failure of a non-TNFi as first-line therapy. However, specifically designed studies are needed to evaluate the more appropriate therapeutic strategies in RA, according to the first-line drug, including new targeted synthetic DMARDs.
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