Authors: Baser O, Ganguli A, Roy S, Xie L, Cifaldi M.

Purpose: Despite improved clinical outcomes for the majority of patients, nearly 30% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who initiate tumor necrosis factor antagonist (anti-TNF) biologic agents fail to respond to their first-line anti-TNF and switch to another anti-TNF or a non-TNF biologic. How this change affects health care costs and resource utilization is unknown. We therefore compared RA patients taking first-line anti-TNFs who switched to a second anti-TNF versus those patients who switched to an alternate biologic.

Methods: Health care claims data were obtained from a large US database for eligible adults with confirmed RA diagnoses who initiated anti-TNF treatment and switched to another biologic. Health care costs and utilization during the first 12 months’ postswitch were compared. Generalized linear models were used to adjust for differences in demographic and clinical characteristics before switching.

Findings: Patients who switched to a second anti-TNF rather than a non-TNF biologic were generally younger (53.0 vs 55.3 years; P < 0.0001) and less likely to be female (79.7% vs 82.7%; P = 0.0490). Of the 3497 eligible patients who switched from first-line anti-TNFs, 2563 (73.3%) switched to another anti-TNF and 934 (26.7%) switched to a non-TNF. Adalimumab was the most frequently prescribed (43.4%) second-line anti-TNF, and abatacept was the most common non-anti-TNF (71.4%). Patients who switched to a second anti-TNF remained on their first medication for a significantly shorter period (342.5 vs 420.6 days; P < 0.0001) and had lower comorbidity indices and higher disease severity at baseline than those who switched to a non-anti-TNF. After adjusting for baseline differences, patients who switched to second anti-TNFs vs a non-TNF incurred lower RA-related costs ($20,938.9 vs $22,645.2; P = 0.0010) and total health care costs ($34,894.6 vs $38,437.2; P = 0.0010) 1 year post-switch. These differences were driven by increased physician office visit costs among the non-TNF group.

Implications: Among the anti-TNF initiators who switched therapy, more patients switched to a second anti-TNF than to a non-TNF. Switching to a second anti-TNF treatment was associated with lower all-cause and RA-related health care costs and resource utilization than switching to a non-TNF. Because switching therapy may be unavoidable, finding a treatment algorithm mitigating this increase to any extent should be considered. These data are limited by their retrospective design. Additional confounding variables that could not be controlled for may affect results.

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