Defining refractory rheumatoid arthritis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


While biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) have transformed outcomes of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a proportion of patients are refractory to multiple bDMARDs. Definitions of refractory RA thus far have been arbitrary, and outcome data and impact of such cohorts remain limited. Extrapolation from randomised controlled trial and some real-life data suggest approximately 20% progress onto a third bDMARD with a more modest proportion failing additional bDMARDs. This viewpoint discusses an opinion of refractory RA disease and proposes key principles to accurately identify refractory cohorts. These include demonstrating presence of persistent inflammation despite multiple therapies and acknowledging development of antidrug antibody. Potential basis of refractory disease is summarised, and suggestions for an initial approach in the future evaluation of refractory disease are offered. Specific investigation of refractory RA disease is necessary to inform the clinical need and provide a basis for robust investigation of underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)966-969
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of the rheumatic diseases
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Antirheumatic Agents/therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid/classification
  • Biological Products/therapeutic use
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Pain, Intractable/classification
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Failure
  • Treatment Outcome


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