In this trial, we investigated the safety and efficacy of tacrolimus used in addition to standard antirheumatic drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Tacrolimus 3 mg or placebo was orally administered once daily for 52 weeks in a double-blind manner to patients with early active rheumatoid arthritis receiving other disease- modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). A total of 123 patients were randomized to the tacrolimus group (61 patients) and to the placebo group (62 patients). In the tacrolimus group, 70.5% achieved a clinical response according to American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 20 criteria, whereas 45.2% in the placebo group did so (P = 0.005). The tacrolimus group also showed significant improvement in terms of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) response criteria of 'good or moderate' versus the placebo group (86.9 vs. 56.5%, respectively). Likewise, significantly more patients in the tacrolimus group versus the placebo group achieved remission of the Disease Activity Score in 28 joints (DAS28) (45 vs. 21%). The mean changes in the Total Sharp Score and erosion score were lower in the tacrolimus group, but the differences between the two groups were not significant. There was no significant difference between the two groups in the incidence of adverse events. Based on these results, we can conclude that the additional use of tacrolimus in patients with early rheumatoid arthritis with inadequate response to other DMARD treatments is useful, and this could become one of the treatment options for these rheumatoid arthritis patients.
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