Weinblatt Arthritis Research & Therapy (2018) 20:103 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13075-018-1599-7 EDITORIAL Open Access Methotrexate: who would have predicted its importance in rheumatoid arthritis? Michael E. Weinblatt Forty years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration community was not excited about using cancer drugs approved low dose methotrexate (MTX) for the treat- for such a “benign” diseaselikeRA. Therewas also ment of active rheumatoid arthritis (RA). MTX was pre- greater enthusiasm for using corticosteroids for RA— viously approved for a variety of malignancies at high the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1950 to Hench and doses and at low doses for psoriasis. Little did one an- colleagues for their pioneering work in this area. ticipate in 1988 that MTX would change the course of Great credit for MTX development in RA needs to go RA. I had the pleasure of being directly involved in the to a few pioneering community-based rheumatologists, in- development of MTX in RA and it has been extremely cluding Rex Hoffmeister in Spokane, Washington and gratifying to see the impact of MTX in RA. Robert Willkens in Seattle, who initially reported their For rheumatologists who have recently completed personal experience with low dose MTX for RA [2, 3]. training, one could not imagine the clinical picture 40 Despite their initial observations, however, definitive ran- years ago in which many of our patients were disabled, domized controlled trials were not performed at that time. unable to work, in wheel chairs, and had significant pain Upon completion of my fellowship in 1980, I became and deformity. That was the landscape of RA in the interested in studying MTX as a treatment for RA. I was 1980s. During my fellowship training (1978 to 1980) the influenced by the reports from Hoffmeister and Willkens pyramid approach to treatment was used, which in- and my own experience with MTX in psoriatic arthritis. cluded high dose aspirin, the newer non-steroidal anti- In 1982, I submitted a 35-patient double-blind crossover inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, corticosteroids, study to Lederle Laboratories, the manufacturer of and slow-acting anti-rheumatic therapy, i.e., gold salts, MTX, for support of this study. Initially they responded hydroxychloroquine, d-penicillamine, and immuno- that “we are not interested in supporting studies of suppressive drugs, including azathioprine and cyclophos- MTX in rheumatoid arthritis but would keep the proto- phamide. Treatment regimens also included joint col on file.” Approximately 6 months later I was called injections, short-term hospitalization, physical therapy, by the clinical development team at Lederle to attend a and joint replacement surgery. The therapeutic land- meeting in Pearl River, New York to discuss MTX in scape was bleak with failures using total nodal radiation RA. Attending the meeting were several other rheuma- and plasmapheresis. New drug development for RA was tologists who also had submitted protocols, including essentially non-existent with the only drug under devel- Jim Williams and John Ward, Directors of the Coopera- opment being oral gold (auranofin), which proved to tive Systematic Studies of Rheumatic Disease program, have limited efficacy and gastrointestinal intolerance. who proposed a randomized parallel control trial, and MTX was not specifically developed for RA. Joel Kremer from Albany Medical College, who pro- Aminopterin, the parent compound of MTX, was the posed a long-term study to examine the effects of MTX first successful anti-metabolite used in the treatment on the liver. In attendance at that meeting was Harriet of childhood leukemia. In 1951, Gubner and col- Kiltie, MD, the medical director at Lederle Laboratories. leagues reported a positive open study using aminop- She was enthusiastic about supporting research on MTX terininRAand psoriasis. The dermatology even though it was now a generic drug. Until recently, I community began using low dose weekly MTX for was unaware that Dr. Kiltie had begun her research car- the treatment of psoriasis but hepatotoxicity with eer at Lederle studying folic acid. The history of research long-term treatment was observed. The rheumatology on folic acid and the development of aminopterin and its subsequent use by Sidney Farber in childhood leukemia is beyond the scope of this paper but is of Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org significant historical interest. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA © Weinblatt 2018 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated. Weinblatt Arthritis Research & Therapy (2018) 20:103 Page 2 of 2 Our 35-patient study  and the CSSRD trial  were 4. Weinblatt ME, Coblyn JS, Fox DA, et al. Efficacy of low-dose methotrexate in rheumatoid arthritis. N Engl J Med. 1985;312:818–22. the two studies reviewed by the US Food and Drug 5. Williams HJ, Willkens RF. Samuelson Co Jr, et al. Comparison of low-dose Administration. The FDA Arthritis Advisory Committee oral pulse methotrexate and placebo in the treatment of rheumatoid overwhelmingly voted in favor of approval of low dose arthritis. A controlled clinical trial. Arthritis Rheum. 1985;28:721–30. 6. Jeurissen ME, Boerbooms AM, Van De Putte LB, et al. Methotrexate versus weekly MTX for RA. azathioprine in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. A forty-eight-week Following the initial placebo controlled trials, com- randomized, double-blind trial. Arthritis Rheum. 1991;34:961–72. parative trials were performed studying MTX versus aza- 7. Weinblatt ME, Kaplan H, Germain BF, et al. Low-dose methotrexate compared with auranofin in adult rheumatoid arthritis. A thirty-six-week, thioprine  and auranofin (oral gold) . Long-term double-blind trial. Arthritis Rheum. 1990;33:330–8. prospective studies were also performed, with patients in 8. Weinblatt ME, Maier AL, Fraser PA, Coblyn JS. Longterm prospective study our initial randomized study being followed over 11 years of methotrexate in rheumatoid arthritis: Conclusions after 132 months of therapy. J Rheumatol. 1998;25:238–42. . Combination studies were then conducted combin- 9. Morgan SL, Baggott JE, Vaughn WH, et al. Supplementation with folic acid ing MTX with all traditional small molecules, including during methotrexate therapy for rheumatoid arthritis. A double-blind, anti-malarials, gold salts, sulfasalazine, oral gold, azathi- placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 1994;121:833–41. 10. Walker AM, Funch D, Dreyer NA, et al. Determinants of serious liver disease oprine, and cyclosporine. In addition, early biologic re- among patients receiving low-dose methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis. sponse modifiers, including anti-CD4 therapy, were Arthritis Rheum. 1993;36:329–35. added to a background of MTX. 11. Kremer JM, Alarcón GS, Weinblatt ME, et al. Clinical, laboratory, radiographic, and histopathologic features of methotrexate-associated lung injury in Multiple studies were done to characterize and patients with rheumatoid arthritis—a multicenter study with literature minimize the toxicity profile of MTX. Graciela Alarcon review. Arthritis Rheum. 1997;40:1829–37. and Sarah Morgan performed important studies of the 12. Rau R, Herborn G, Karger T, Werdier D. Retardation of radiographic progression in rheumatoid arthritis with methotrexate therapy. A controlled impact of folic acid in reducing MTX toxicity . I col- study. Arthritis Rheum. 1991;34:1236–44. laborated with Joel Kremer and Graciela Alarcon and others in studies of the effects of MTX on liver and lung [10, 11]. Roff Rau in Germany performed some of the initial radiographic studies that showed slowing of radio- graphic progression with MTX  and was a champion of MTX use in Europe. The development of MTX was an international effort combining the experience of community rheumatolo- gists, clinical researchers in academic centers, and the clinical research team at Lederle Laboratories. There was great comradery amongst the MTX researchers worldwide with the goal of developing a new effective therapy for RA. MTX has now become the standard of care in RA therapeutics and is a major advance in the treatment of this disease. Abbreviations MTX: Methotrexate; RA: Rheumatoid arthritis Authors’ contributions MEW conceived, drafted, edited, and approved this paper. Competing interests The author declares that he has no competing interests. Publisher’sNote Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. References 1. Gubner R, August S, Ginsberg V. Therapeutic suppression of tissue reactivity. Effect of aminopterin in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Am J Med Sci. 1951;22:176–82. 2. Hoffmeister RT. Methotrexate in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 1972; 15:114. (abstract) 3. Willkens RF, Watson MA, Paxson CS. Low dose pulse methotrexate therapy in rheumatoid arthritis. J Rheumatol. 1980;7:501–5.
Arthritis Research & Therapy – Springer Journals
Published: May 30, 2018
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