2012 Update of the 2008 American College of
Rheumatology Recommendations for the Use of
Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs and
Biologic Agents in the Treatment of
JASVINDER A. SINGH,1DANIEL E. FURST,2ASEEM BHARAT,1JEFFREY R. CURTIS,1
ARTHUR F. KAVANAUGH,3JOEL M. KREMER,4LARRY W. MORELAND,5JAMES O’DELL,6
KEVIN L. WINTHROP,7TIMOTHY BEUKELMAN,1S. LOUIS BRIDGES JR.,1W. WINN CHATHAM,1
HAROLD E. PAULUS,2MARIA SUAREZ-ALMAZOR,8CLAIRE BOMBARDIER,9MAXIME DOUGADOS,10
DINESH KHANNA,11CHARLES M. KING,12AMYE L. LEONG,13ERIC L. MATTESON,14
JOHN T. SCHOUSBOE,15EILEEN MOYNIHAN,16KAREN S. KOLBA,17ARCHANA JAIN,1
ELIZABETH R. VOLKMANN,2HARSH AGRAWAL,2SANGMEE BAE,2AMY S. MUDANO,1
NIVEDITA M. PATKAR,1AND KENNETH G. SAAG1
Guidelines and recommendations developed and/or endorsed by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) are
intended to provide guidance for particular patterns of practice and not to dictate the care of a particular patient.
The ACR considers adherence to these guidelines and recommendations to be voluntary, with the ultimate determi-
nation regarding their application to be made by the physician in light of each patient’s individual circumstances.
Guidelines and recommendations are intended to promote beneficial or desirable outcomes but cannot guarantee
any specific outcome. Guidelines and recommendations developed or endorsed by the ACR are subject to periodic
revision as warranted by the evolution of medical knowledge, technology, and practice.
The American College of Rheumatology is an independent, professional, medical and scientific society which does
not guarantee, warrant, or endorse any commercial product or service.
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) most re-
cently published recommendations for the use of disease-
modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic
agents in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in
2008 (1). These recommendations covered indications for
use, monitoring of side effects, assessment of the clinical
response to DMARDs and biologic agents, screening for
tuberculosis (TB), and assessment of the roles of cost and
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors
and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the
Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States govern-
Supported by a research grant from the American College
1Jasvinder A. Singh, MBBS, MPH, Aseem Bharat, MBBS,
MPH, Jeffrey R. Curtis, MD, MPH, Timothy Beukelman, MD,
MSCE, S. Louis Bridges Jr., MD, PhD, W. Winn Chatham,
MD, Archana Jain, MD, Amy S. Mudano, MPH, Nivedita M.
Patkar, MD, MSPH, Kenneth G. Saag, MD, MSc: University
of Alabama at Birmingham;2Daniel E. Furst, MD, Harold E.
Paulus, MD, Elizabeth R. Volkmann, MD, Harsh Agrawal,
MD, Sangmee Bae, BS: University of California, Los Angeles;
3Arthur F. Kavanaugh, MD: University of California, San Di-
ego;4Joel M. Kremer, MD: Albany Medical College, Albany,
New York;5Larry W. Moreland, MD: University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;6James O’Dell, MD: University of
Nebraska, Omaha;7Kevin L. Winthrop, MD, MPH: Oregon
Health and Science University, Portland;
Almazor, MD, MPH: University of Texas MD Anderson Can-
cer Center, Houston;9Claire Bombardier, MD, MSc: Toronto
General Research Institute, Toronto, Ontario, Canada;
10Maxime Dougados, MD: Ho ˆpital Cochin, Paris, France;
11Dinesh Khanna, MD, MSc: University of Michigan, Ann
Arbor;12Charles M. King, MD: North Mississippi Medical
Center, Tupelo;13Amye L. Leong, MBA: Healthy Motivation,
Santa Barbara, California;
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota;
MD, PhD: University of Minnesota and Park Nicollet Clinic,
Minneapolis;16Eileen Moynihan, MD: Highmark Medicare
Services, Woodbury, New Jersey;
Pacific Arthritis Center, Santa Maria, California.
14Eric L. Matteson, MD, MPH:
15John T. Schousboe,
17Karen S. Kolba, MD:
Arthritis Care & Research
Vol. 64, No. 5, May 2012, pp 625–639
© 2012, American College of Rheumatology
patient preference in decision making for biologic agents
(1). Recognizing the rapidly evolving knowledge in RA
management and the accumulation of new evidence re-
garding the safety and efficacy of existing and newer ther-
apies, the ACR commissioned an update of the 2008 rec-
ommendations in select topic areas.
The 2012 revision updates the 2008 ACR recommenda-
tions in the following areas: 1) indications for DMARDs
and biologic agents, 2) switching between DMARD and
biologic therapies, 3) use of biologic agents in high-risk
patients (those with hepatitis, congestive heart failure
[CHF], and malignancy), 4) screening for TB in patients
starting or currently receiving biologic agents, and 5) vac-
DMARDs or biologic agents (Table 1).
Materials and Methods
We utilized the same methodology as described in detail
in the 2008 guidelines (1) to maintain consistency and to
allow cumulative evidence to inform this 2012 recommen-
dations update. These recommendations were developed
by 2 expert panels: 1) a nonvoting working group and Core
Expert Panel (CEP) of clinicians and methodologists re-
sponsible for the selection of the relevant topic areas to be
considered, the systematic literature review, the evidence
synthesis, and creation of “clinical scenarios”; and 2) a
Task Force Panel (TFP) of 11 internationally recognized
expert clinicians, patient representatives, and methodolo-
gists with expertise in RA treatment, evidence-based med-
icine, and patient preferences who were tasked with rating
Dr. Singh has received consultant fees, speaking fees,
and/or honoraria (less than $10,000 each) from Allergan,
Ardea, Savient, and Novartis, and (more than $10,000) from
Takeda, has received an investigator-initiated grant from
Savient and Takeda, and is an executive member of an
international organization, Outcome Measures in Rheuma-
tology (OMERACT). Dr. Furst has received consultant fees,
speaking fees, and/or honoraria (less than $10,000 each)
from Abbott, Actelion, Amgen, BMS, Biogen Idec, UCB,
Gilead, Centocor, GSK, Novartis, Pfizer, NIH, and Roche/
Genentech, and is a member of the Consortium of Rheuma-
tology Researchers of North America (CORRONA). Dr. Cur-
tis has received consultant fees, speaking fees, and/or
honoraria (less than $10,000 each) from Pfizer, BMS, Cre-
scendo, and Abbott, and (more than $10,000 each) from
Roche, Genentech, UCB, Centocor, CORRONA, and Amgen.
Dr. Kavanaugh has conducted clinical research for Cento-
cor, UCB, Genentech/Roche, NIH, Abbott, Takeda, and Am-
gen. Dr. Kremer has received consultant fees, speaking fees,
and/or honoraria (less than $10,000 each) from Pfizer, BMS,
and Amgen, and (more than $10,000) from Genentech. Dr.
Moreland has received consultant fees (less than $10,000)
from Pfizer and is a member of the data safety monitoring
board for ChemoCentryx. Dr. Winthrop has received consul-
tant fees, speaking fees, and/or honoraria (less than $10,000
each) from Abbott, Amgen, Pfizer, Cellestis, and Wyeth. Dr.
Chatham has served as a paid consultant with investment
analysts on behalf of Gerson Lehrman and Leerink-Swann.
Dr. Bombardier has received honoraria (less than $10,000
each) and/or served on the advisory board for Abbott Can-
ada, AstraZeneca, Biogen Idec, BMS, Pfizer (Wyeth), Merck
(Schering), Janssen (Merck), and Takeda, and has received
honoraria (more than $10,000 each) from Abbott Interna-
tional and Pfizer. Dr. Dougados has received consultant fees,
speaking fees, and/or honoraria (less than $10,000 each)
from Pfizer, Abbott, UCB, BMS, and Roche. Dr. Khanna has
received consultant fees, speaking fees, and/or honoraria
(less than $10,000 each) from Genentech, UCB, Pfizer, Acte-
lion, and Gilead. Ms Leong has received consultant fees,
speaking fees, and/or honoraria (more than $10,000 each)
from Centocor Ortho Biotech and GlaxoSmithKline. Dr.
Kolba owns stock and/or stock options in Merck, Amgen,
and Genentech. Dr. Saag has received consultant fees,
speaking fees, and/or honoraria (less than $10,000 each)
from Merck, Lilly, Novartis, Genentech, Horizon, and URL,
and (more than $10,000) from Amgen.
Members of the Task Force Panel: Claire Bombardier, MD,
MSc (University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Ar-
thur F. Kavanaugh, MD (University of California, San Di-
ego), Dinesh Khanna, MD, MSc (University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor), Joel M. Kremer, MD (Albany Medical Center,
Albany, NY), Amye L. Leong, MBA (Healthy Motivation,
Santa Barbara, CA), Eric L. Matteson, MD, MPH (Mayo
Clinic, Rochester, MN), John T. Schousboe, MD, PhD (Park
Nicollet Clinic and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis),
Charles M. King, MD (North Mississippi Medical Center,
Tupelo), Maxime Dougados, MD (Ho ˆpital Cochin, Paris,
France), Eileen Moynihan, MD (Highmark Medicare Ser-
vices, Woodbury, NJ), Karen S. Kolba, MD (Pacific Arthritis
Center, Santa Maria, CA).
Members of the Core Expert Panel: Timothy Beukelman,
MD, MSCE, S. Louis Bridges Jr., MD, PhD, W. Winn
Chatham, MD, Jeffrey R. Curtis, MD, MPH, Kenneth G. Saag,
MD, MSc, Jasvinder A. Singh, MBBS, MPH (University of
Alabama at Birmingham), Daniel E. Furst, MD, Harold E.
Paulus, MD (University of California, Los Angeles), Ted
Mikuls, MD, MSPH (participated in meetings only prior to
June 2010; University of Nebraska, Omaha), Larry W.
Moreland, MD (University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA),
James O’Dell, MD (University of Nebraska, Omaha), Maria
Suarez-Almazor, MD, MPH (MD Anderson Cancer Center,
Content-Specific Expert Advisors: Kevin L. Winthrop, MD,
MPH (tuberculosis; Oregon Health and Science University,
Portland), Michael Saag, MD (infections; University of Ala-
bama at Birmingham).
Address correspondence to Jasvinder A. Singh, MBBS,
MPH, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Faculty Office
Tower 805B, 510 20th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35294.
Submitted for publication May 27, 2011; accepted in re-
vised form February 8, 2012.
Significance & Innovations
● These 2012 recommendations update the 2008
American College of Rheumatology recommenda-
tions for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
● The recommendations cover the use of disease-
agents in patients with RA, including switching
● We address screening for tuberculosis reactiva-
tion, immunization, and treatment of RA patients
with hepatitis, congestive heart failure, and/or ma-
lignancy in these recommendations, given their
importance in RA patients receiving or starting
626Singh et al
the scenarios created using an ordinal scale specified in
the RAND/University of California at Los Angeles (RAND/
UCLA) Appropriateness Method (2–4). This method solic-
ited formal input from this multidisciplinary TFP to make
recommendations informed by the evidence. The methods
used to develop the updated ACR recommendations are
described briefly below.
Systematic literature review: sources, databases, and
domains. Literature searches for both DMARDs and bio-
logic agents relied predominantly on PubMed searches
with medical subject headings and relevant keywords sim-
ilar to those used for the 2008 ACR RA recommendations
(see Supplementary Appendices 1 and 2, available in the
online version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.
com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658). We included ran-
domized controlled trials (RCTs), controlled clinical trials,
quasi-experimental designs, cohort studies (prospective or
retrospective), and case–control studies, with no restric-
tions on sample size. More details about inclusion criteria
are listed below and in Supplementary Appendix 3 (avail-
able in the online version of this article at http://online
The 2008 recommendations were based on a literature
search that ended on February 14, 2007. The literature
search end date for the 2012 update was February 26, 2010
for the efficacy and safety studies and September 22, 2010
for additional qualitative reviews related to TB screening,
immunization, and hepatitis (similar to the 2008 method-
ology). Studies published subsequent to that date were not
For biologic agents, we also reviewed the Cochrane sys-
tematic reviews and overviews (published and in press) in
the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews to identify
additional studies (5–8) and further supplemented by
hand checking the bibliographies of all included articles.
Table 1. Overview comparison of topics and medications included in the 2008 and 2012 American College of Rheumatology
rheumatoid arthritis recommendations*
Topic area considered20082012
Indications for starting or resuming
DMARDs and biologic agents
And, when appropriate, combination
DMARD therapy with 2 or 3 DMARDs†
And, when appropriate, combination
DMARD therapy with 2 or 3 DMARDs‡
7. Certolizumab pegol
See 2008 recommendations¶
Biologic agents included§
Role of cost and patient preference in
decision making for biologic
Switching between therapies
Monitoring of side effects of DMARDs
and biologic agents
TB screening for patients starting/
receiving biologic agents
Use of biologic agents in high-risk
patients (those with hepatitis,
congestive heart failure, and
Vaccinations in patients starting/
receiving DMARDs or biologic
Considered, but not addressed in detail
See 2008 recommendations¶
Pneumococcal, influenza, and hepatitis
Pneumococcal, influenza, hepatitis,
human papillomavirus, and herpes
* DMARDs ? disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs; non-TNF ? non–tumor necrosis factor; TB ? tuberculosis.
† Cyclosporine, azathioprine, and gold were included in the literature search, but due to the lack of new data and/or infrequent use, they were not
included in scenarios and the recommendations.
‡ Triple therapy with methotrexate ? hydroxychloroquine ? sulfasalazine.
§ Anakinra was included in the literature search, but due to the lack of new data and/or infrequent use, it was not included in the recommendations.
¶ No significant new data related to these topics.
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations627
Finally, the CEP and TFP confirmed that the relevant lit-
erature was included in the evidence synthesis. Unless
they were identified by the literature search and met the
article inclusion criteria (see Supplementary Appendix 3,
available in the online version of this article at http://
we did not review any unpublished data from product
manufacturers, investigators, or the Food and Drug Ad-
ministration (FDA) Adverse Event Reporting System.
We searched the literature for the 8 DMARDs and 9
biologic agents most commonly used for the treatment of
RA. Literature was searched for 8 DMARDs: azathioprine,
cyclosporine, hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, metho-
trexate, minocycline, organic gold compounds, and sul-
fasalazine. Similar to 2008, azathioprine, cyclosporine,
and gold were not included in the recommendations based
on their infrequent use and lack of new data (Table 1).
Literature was searched for 9 biologic agents: abatacept,
adalimumab, anakinra, certolizumab pegol, etanercept,
golimumab, infliximab, rituximab, and tocilizumab. Anak-
inra was not included in the recommendations due to
infrequent use and lack of new data. Details of the biblio-
graphic search strategy are listed in Supplementary Ap-
pendix 1 (available in the online version of this article at
Literature search criteria and article selection.
Inclusion and exclusion criteria for review of article
abstracts and titles. With the exception of assessment of
TB, hepatitis, and vaccination (see below), studies were
included if they met all of the following criteria: 1) original
study in English language with an abstract, 2) observa-
tional studies (case–control or cohort) or intervention
studies, 3) related to the treatment of RA with DMARDs or
biologic agents, and 4) study duration of at least 6 months
(see Supplementary Appendix 2, available in the online
version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
Studies were excluded if they met any of the following
criteria: 1) the report was a meeting abstract, review arti-
cle, or meta-analysis; 2) the study duration was less than 6
months; and 3) DMARDs or biologic agents were used for
non-RA conditions (e.g., psoriatic arthritis, systematic lu-
pus erythematosus) or non–FDA-approved use in health
conditions other than RA (e.g., biologic agents in vasculi-
tis) (see Supplementary Appendix 2, available in the online
version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
Selection criteria for articles reviewing efficacy/adverse
events. Two reviewers independently screened the titles
and abstracts of the 2,497 potential articles from the
PubMed and Cochrane Library searches by applying the
above selection method. Any disagreements were resolved
by consultation with the lead reviewer (JAS). The lead
author also reviewed all titles and abstracts to identify any
that might have been overlooked. We identified 149 orig-
inal articles from the 3 searches for full-text retrieval. After
excluding duplicates, 128 unique original articles were
identified and the data were abstracted. This included 16
articles focused on DMARDs and 112 on biologic agents
(98 on the 6 biologic agents assessed in the 2008 RA
recommendations and 14 on certolizumab pegol, goli-
mumab, and tocilizumab, 3 newer biologic agents that had
been added since the 2008 recommendations) (see Supple-
mentary Appendix 3, available in the online version of this
article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/
(ISSN)2151-4658). A list of all included articles is pro-
vided in Supplementary Appendix 4 (available in the on-
line version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.
Additional literature searches for articles reviewing TB
screening, hepatitis, and vaccination. Qualitative reviews
of the literature were performed for these 3 topics (com-
pleted September 22, 2010). Similar to the strategy for the
2008 recommendations, literature searches were broad-
ened to include case reports and case series of any size,
review articles, and meta-analyses, plus inclusion of dis-
eases other than RA. In addition, we included searches on
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web
site (www.cdc.gov) for past and current recommendations
regarding TB screening and vaccination in immunocom-
Agreement between reviewers for selection of studies
for full-text retrieval. The kappa coefficients (agreement
beyond chance) for independent selection of articles for
full-text review by the 2 reviewers met or exceeded 0.60
(good) for DMARDs, 0.65 (very good) for the 6 biologic
agents included in the 2008 ACR recommendations, and
0.84 (excellent) for a combination of certolizumab pegol,
golimumab, and tocilizumab (9).
Full-text article review, data abstraction, data entry,
and evidence report generation. The full text of each ar-
ticle was reviewed; data abstraction and entry were per-
formed by reviewers using a standardized Microsoft Ac-
cess database that was developed and used for data
abstraction for the 2008 ACR RA recommendations. Two
reviewers were assigned to abstract data on DMARDs (SB,
DEF), rituximab (HA, ERV), and the rest of the biologic
agents (AB, AJ). To ensure that the error rates were low and
abstractions were similar, 26 articles related to biologic
agents were dually abstracted by 2 abstractors (AB, AJ).
The data entry errors were less than 3%. Entered data were
further checked against raw data on biologic agents from
the Cochrane systematic reviews (5–8). Following this
comprehensive literature review, we developed an evi-
dence report using the data abstracted from the published
Development of clinical scenarios. Clinical scenarios
were drafted by the investigators and the CEP, based on the
updated evidence report. We used the same key determi-
nant clinical thresholds and treatment decision branch
points that were developed for the 2008 ACR RA treatment
recommendations (1). Clinical scenarios were constructed
based on permutations in the particular therapeutic con-
siderations that reflected: 1) disease duration (early versus
established RA), 2) disease activity (low, moderate, or
high) (Tables 2 and 3 and Supplementary Appendix 5,
available in the online version of this article at http://
628Singh et al
Table 2. Definitions of key terms and key assumptions for clinical scenarios for the 2012 ACR recommendations update for
the treatment of RA*
Hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, methotrexate, minocycline, or sulfasalazine
Hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, minocycline, or sulfasalazine
Combinations including 2 drugs, most of which are methotrexate based, with only a few
exceptions (e.g., methotrexate ? hydroxychloroquine, methotrexate ? leflunomide,
methotrexate ? sulfasalazine, sulfasalazine ? hydroxychloroquine), and triple therapy
(methotrexate ? hydroxychloroquine ? sulfasalazine)
Adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, etanercept, infliximab, or golimumab
Abatacept, rituximab, or tocilizumab
Anti-TNF biologic or non-TNF biologic (8 biologic agents, excluding anakinra)
RA disease duration ?6 months
RA disease duration ?6 months or meeting the 1987 ACR classification criteria (24)‡
Categorized as low, moderate, and high as per validated common scales (Table 3 and
Supplementary Appendix 4, available in the online version of this article at http://
onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658) or the treating clinician’s formal
Presence of 1 or more of the following features: functional limitation (e.g., HAQ DI or similar
valid tools), extraarticular disease (e.g., presence of rheumatoid nodules, RA vasculitis,
Felty’s syndrome), positive rheumatoid factor or anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies
(33–37), or bony erosions by radiograph (38–40)
A joint ACR/EULAR task force defined remission as a tender joint count, swollen joint count,
C-reactive protein (mg/dl) level, and patient global assessment of ?1 each or a simplified
Disease Activity Score of ?3.3 (41)
Scoring system based upon the levels of albumin, total bilirubin, and prothrombin time, and
the presence of ascites and encephalopathy. Patients with a score of 10 or more (in the class
C category) have a prognosis with a 1-year survival rate of ?50%. Patients with class A or B
have a better 5-year prognosis, with a survival rate of 70–80% (12)
NYHA class III includes patients with cardiac disease resulting in marked limitation of
physical activity with less than ordinary physical activity causing fatigue, palpitation,
dyspnea, or anginal pain, but no symptoms at rest. NYHA class IV includes patients with
cardiac disease resulting in inability to carry on any physical activity without discomfort
and symptoms of cardiac insufficiency or that the anginal syndrome may be present even at
rest, which increases if any physical activity is undertaken (13)
Close contacts of persons known or suspected to have active TB; foreign-born persons from
areas with a high incidence of active TB (e.g., Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America,
and Russia); persons who visit areas with a high prevalence of active TB, especially if visits
are frequent or prolonged; residents and employees of congregate settings whose clients are
at an increased risk for active TB (e.g., correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, and
homeless shelters); health care workers who serve clients who are at an increased risk for
active TB; populations defined locally as having an increased incidence of latent
Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection or active TB, possibly including medically
underserved, low-income populations, or persons who abuse drugs or alcohol; and infants,
children, and adolescents exposed to adults who are at an increased risk for latent M
tuberculosis infection or active TB (14)
NYHA class III and IV
CDC-defined risk factors for
latent TB infection
1. Focus on common patients, not exceptional cases
2. Cost not considered; please see 2008 recommendations (1)
3. Alternate therapeutic choices taken into account
4. When a particular drug is not recommended, it does not imply that it is contraindicated
5. Examples of scenarios for which agreement is not achieved noted explicitly (see
Supplementary Appendix 6, available in the online version of this article at http://
6. Optimal dose of medication (as defined by the treating clinician) given for 3 months (in lieu
of total duration of therapy) before therapy escalation or switching
7. Disease activity and prognosis assessments performed between 3 and 6 months after
initiation or change in therapy, although can be assessed as early as 3 months
8. Assume that a clinical indication exists (based upon disease activity) for use of each treatment
* ACR ? American College of Rheumatology; RA ? rheumatoid arthritis; DMARDs ? disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs; anti-TNF ? anti–tumor
necrosis factor; HAQ ? Health Assessment Questionnaire; DI ? disability index; EULAR ? European League Against Rheumatism; NYHA ? New York
Heart Association; CDC ? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; TB ? tuberculosis.
† Azathioprine, cyclosporine, and gold were considered but not included due to their infrequent use in RA and/or the lack of new data since 2008.
‡ New classification criteria for RA (ACR/EULAR collaborative initiative) have been published (23); however, the evidence available for these 2011
recommendations relied on the use of the 1987 ACR RA classification criteria, since literature review preceded the publication of the new criteria. We
anticipate that in the near future, data using the new classification criteria may be available for evidence synthesis and formulating recommendations.
§ Agreement as defined by the RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method.
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations629
3) current medication regimen, and 4) presence of poor
prognostic factors (yes or no, as defined in the 2008 ACR
recommendations). An example of a clinical scenario is:
“The patient has active established RA and has failed an
adequate trial of an Anti-TNF [anti–tumor necrosis factor]
biologic because of adverse events. Is it appropriate to
switch to another Anti-TNF biologic after failing etaner-
cept?” (see Supplementary Appendix 6, available in the
online version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.
cluded both new considerations and questions considered
in the 2008 recommendations.
For this 2012 update, we used a modified Delphi process
and obtained consensus (defined as ?70% agreement)
from the CEP for inclusion of relevant clinical scenarios
based on 1) review of each of the previous 2008 scenarios
and 2) review of newly developed scenarios to address
switching between therapies. We provided CEP members
with manuscript abstracts and requested full-text articles
to help inform decisions.
The CEP members also recommended the following: 1)
use of the FDA definitions of “serious” and “non-serious”
adverse events (10), 2) exclusion of 3 DMARDs used very
infrequently (i.e., cyclosporine, azathioprine, and gold; see
above) or without additional relevant new data, and 3)
exclusion of 1 biologic agent without additional relevant
new evidence and with infrequent use (anakinra).
Rating the appropriateness of clinical scenarios by the
TFP. The TFP is referred to as the “panel” in the Methods
and the recommendations that follow. For the first round
of ratings we contacted panel members by e-mail and
provided them with the evidence report, clinical scenar-
ios, and rating instructions. We asked them to use the
evidence report and their clinical judgment to rate the
“appropriateness” of the clinical scenarios under consid-
eration. The panelists individually rated each scenario
permutation using a 9-point Likert appropriateness scale.
A median score of 1 to 3 indicated “not appropriate” and
7 to 9 indicated “appropriate” for taking action defined in
the scenario (2–4). For all eventual recommendations, the
RAND/UCLA appropriateness panel score required a me-
dian rating of 7 to 9. Those scenario permutations with
median ratings in the 4 to 6 range and those with disagree-
ment among the panelists (i.e., one-third or more TFP
members rating the scenario in the 1 to 3 range and one-
third or more rating it in the 7 to 9 range) were classified as
“uncertain.” At a face-to-face meeting with both the TFP
and the CEP members on November 15, 2010, the anony-
mous first round of ratings by the panel, including disper-
sion of the scores, ranges, and median scores, was pro-
vided to the task force panelists.
The task force panelists agreed upon certain assump-
tions and qualifying statements on which they based their
discussion and subsequent ratings of the scenarios (Table
2). A second round of ratings by panel members occurred
after extensive in-person discussion of the prior ratings
and review of the evidence supporting each scenario.
Conversion of clinical scenarios to ACR RA treatment
recommendations. After the TFP meeting was complete,
recommendations were derived from directly transcribing
the final clinical scenario ratings. Based on the ratings,
scenario permutations were collapsed to yield the most
parsimonious recommendations. For example, when rat-
ings favored a drug indication for both moderate and high
disease activity, one recommendation was given, specify-
ing “moderate or high disease activity.” In most circum-
stances, the recommendations included only positive and
not negative statements. For example, the recommenda-
Table 3. Instruments to measure rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and to
Thresholds of disease
Patient Activity Scale (PAS) or PAS-II
(range 0–10) (31)
Low activity: 0.26–3.7
Moderate activity: 3.71 to ?8.0
High activity: ?8.0
Low activity: ?1.0 to 2.0
Moderate activity: ?2.0 to 4.0
High activity: ?4.0 to 10
Low activity: ?2.8 to 10.0
Moderate activity: ?10.0 to 22.0
High activity: ?22
Low activity: ?2.6 to ?3.2
Moderate activity: ?3.2 to ?5.1
High activity: ?5.1
Low activity: ?3.3 to ?11.0
Moderate activity: ?11.0 to ?26
High activity: ?26
Routine Assessment of Patient Index
Data 3 (range 0–10) (42)
Clinical Disease Activity Index (range
Disease Activity Score in 28 joints
(range 0–9.4) (44)
Simplified Disease Activity Index
(range 0–86.0) (45)
630Singh et al
tions focused on when to initiate specific therapies rather
than when an alternate therapy should not be used. Most
of the recommendations were formulated by drug category
(DMARD, anti-TNF biologic, non-TNF biologic listed al-
phabetically within category), since in many instances, the
ratings were similar for medications within a drug cate-
gory. We specifically note instances where a particular
medication was recommended but others in its group were
not endorsed. Two additional community-based rheuma-
tologists independently reviewed the manuscript and pro-
vided comments. CEP and TFP members reviewed and
approved all final recommendations.
For each final recommendation, the strength of evidence
was assigned using the methods from the American Col-
lege of Cardiology (11). Three levels of evidence were
specified: 1) level of evidence A: data were derived from
multiple RCTs; 2) level of evidence B: data were derived
from a single randomized trial or nonrandomized studies;
and 3) level of evidence C: data were derived from con-
sensus opinion of experts, case studies, or standards of
care. The evidence was rated by 4 panel experts (JO and
JMK, AFK and LWM, where each rated half of the evi-
dence), and discrepancies were resolved by consensus.
Level C evidence often denoted a circumstance where
medical literature addressed the general topic under dis-
cussion but it did not address the specific clinical situa-
tions or scenarios reviewed by the panel. Since many
recommendations had multiple components (in most
cases, multiple medication options), a range is sometimes
provided for the level of evidence; for others, the level of
evidence is provided following each recommendation.
ACR peer review of recommendations. Following con-
struction of the recommendations, the manuscript was
reviewed through the regular journal review process and
by more than 30 ACR members serving on the ACR Guide-
lines Subcommittee, ACR Quality of Care Committee, and
ACR Board of Directors.
Recommendations for the Use of DMARDs and
Biologic Agents in Patients Who Qualify for
Treatment of RA
This 2012 ACR recommendations update incorporates the
evidence from systematic literature review synthesis and
recommendations from 2008 (1) and rates updated and
new clinical scenarios regarding the use of DMARDs and
biologic agents for the treatment of RA. Terms used in the
recommendations are defined in Table 2. The 2012 recom-
mendations are listed in the 4 sections below and in the
1. Indications for and switching DMARDs and biologic
agents: early RA (indications, Figure 1) followed by
established RA (indications and switching, Figure 2),
along with details of the level of evidence supporting
these recommendations (see Supplementary Appen-
dix 7, available in the online version of this article at
2. Use of biologic agents in patients with hepatitis, ma-
lignancy, or CHF who qualify for RA management
3. Screening for TB in patients starting or currently re-
ceiving biologic agents as part of their RA therapy
4. Vaccination in patients starting or currently receiving
DMARDs or biologic agents as part of their RA therapy
In the figures, decision points are shown as diamonds
and actions to be taken by the health care provider are
shown as rectangles. The recommendations in the text
below and in Tables 4 and 5 represent the results of the
2012 update only, whereas Figures 1–3 also incorporate
some of the 2008 ACR RA recommendations that did not
change (1). Areas of uncertainty by the panel (that did not
lead to recommendations) are noted in Supplementary
Appendix 8 (available in the online version of this article
1. Indications for starting, resuming, adding, or switch-
ing DMARDs or biologic agents. We first describe a rec-
ommendation targeting remission or low disease activity
in RA (section 1A). This is followed by recommendations
for DMARD or biologic agent use in early RA (section 1B).
Next, we provide recommendations for initiating and
switching between DMARDs and biologic agents in estab-
lished RA (section 1C).
1A. Target low disease activity or remission. The panel
recommends targeting either low disease activity (Table 3)
or remission (Table 2) in all patients with early RA (Figure
1; level of evidence C) and established RA (Figure 2; level
of evidence C) receiving any DMARD or biologic agent.
1B. Early RA (disease duration ?6 months). In patients
with early RA, the panel recommends the use of DMARD
monotherapy both for low disease activity and for moder-
ate or high disease activity with the absence of poor prog-
nostic features (Figure 1; level of evidence A–C) (details
are shown in Supplementary Appendix 7, available in the
online version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.
In patients with early RA, the panel recommends the use
of DMARD combination therapy (including double and
triple therapy) in patients with moderate or high disease
activity plus poor prognostic features (Figure 1; level of
In patients with early RA, the panel also recommends
the use of an anti-TNF biologic with or without methotrex-
ate in patients who have high disease activity with poor
prognostic features (Figure 1; level of evidence A and B).
Infliximab is the only exception and the recommendation
is to use it in combination with methotrexate, but not as
1C. Established RA (disease duration ?6 months or
meeting the 1987 ACR RA classification criteria). The re-
mainder of panel recommendations regarding indications
for DMARDs and biologic agents are for patients with
established RA. The 3 subsections below define recom-
mendations for initiating and switching therapies in estab-
lished RA (Figure 2). Where the prognosis is not men-
tioned, the recommendation to use/switch to a DMARD or
a biologic agent applies to all patients, regardless of prog-
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations 631
Initiating and switching among DMARDs.
If after 3 months of DMARD monotherapy (in patients
without poor prognostic features), a patient deteriorates
from low to moderate/high disease activity, then metho-
trexate, hydroxychloroquine, or leflunomide should be
added (rectangle A of Figure 2; level of evidence A and B).
If after 3 months of methotrexate or methotrexate/
DMARD combination, a patient still has moderate or high
disease activity, then add another non-methotrexate
DMARD or switch to a different non-methotrexate DMARD
(rectangle B of Figure 2; level of evidence B and C).
Switching from DMARDs to biologic agents.
If a patient has moderate or high disease activity after 3
months of methotrexate monotherapy or DMARD combi-
nation therapy, as an alternative to the DMARD recom-
mendation just noted above, the panel recommends add-
ing or switching to an anti-TNF biologic, abatacept, or
rituximab (rectangles C and D of Figure 2; level of evidence
If after 3 months of intensified DMARD combination
therapy or after a second DMARD, a patient still has mod-
erate or high disease activity, add or switch to an anti-TNF
biologic (rectangle C of Figure 2; level of evidence C).
Switching among biologic agents due to lack of benefit
or loss of benefit.
If a patient still has moderate or high disease activity
after 3 months of anti-TNF biologic therapy and this is due
to a lack or loss of benefit, switching to another anti-TNF
biologic or a non-TNF biologic is recommended (rectan-
gles F and G of Figure 2; level of evidence B and C).
If a patient still has moderate or high disease activity
after 6 months of a non-TNF biologic and the failure is due
to a lack or loss of benefit, switch to another non-TNF
biologic or an anti-TNF biologic (rectangles F and G of
Figure 2; level of evidence B and C). An assessment period
of 6 months was chosen rather than 3 months, due to the
anticipation that a longer time may be required for efficacy
of a non-TNF biologic.
Switching among biologic agents due to harms/adverse
If a patient has high disease activity after failing an
anti-TNF biologic because of a serious adverse event,
switch to a non-TNF biologic (rectangle E of Figure 2; level
of evidence C).
If a patient has moderate or high disease activity after
failing an anti-TNF biologic because of a nonserious ad-
(double and triple
Features of Poor
HCQ and MTX
Anti-TNF with or without MTX
Combination DMARD therapy
(double and triple therapy)‡
Features of Poor
Figure 1. 2012 American College of Rheumatology recommendations update for the treatment of early rheumatoid arthritis (RA),
defined as a disease duration <6 months. For the level of evidence supporting each recommendation, please see Supplementary Appendix
7 (available in the online version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658). DMARD ? disease-
modifying antirheumatic drug (includes hydroxychloroquine [HCQ], leflunomide [LEF], methotrexate [MTX], minocycline, and sulfasala-
zine); anti-TNF ? anti–tumor necrosis factor.
* Definitions of disease activity are discussed in Tables 2 and 3 and Supplementary Appendix 4 (available in the online version of this
article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658) and were categorized as low, moderate, or high.
† Patients were categorized based on the presence or absence of 1 or more of the following poor prognostic features: functional limitation
(e.g., Health Assessment Questionnaire score or similar valid tools), extraarticular disease (e.g., presence of rheumatoid nodules, RA
vasculitis, Felty’s syndrome), positive rheumatoid factor or anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (33–37), and bony erosions by
‡ Combination DMARD therapy with 2 DMARDs, which is most commonly MTX based, with some exceptions (e.g., MTX ? HCQ,
MTX ? LEF, MTX ? sulfasalazine, and sulfasalazine ? HCQ), and triple therapy (MTX ? HCQ ? sulfasalazine) as defined in Table 2.
632Singh et al
A. Add MTX, HCQ or LEF¶
MTX monotherapy or Combination DMARD therapy
(including double or triple therapy)‡
with Poor Prognosis†
F. Switch to anti-TNF biologic OR non-TNF biologic
G. Switch to another type or category of anti-TNF or non-TNF biologic
Low Disease Activity*
B. Add or switch
D. Add or switch to
Abatacept OR Rituximab
C. Add OR switch to anti-TNF biologic#
E. Switch to a non-TNF biologic
If serious adverse
if any adverse
Figure 2. 2012 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) recommendations update for the treatment of established rheumatoid arthritis (RA),
defined as a disease duration >6 months or meeting the 1987 ACR classification criteria. Depending on a patient’s current medication regimen,
the management algorithm may begin at an appropriate rectangle in the figure, rather than only at the top of the figure. Disease-modifying
antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) include hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), leflunomide (LEF), methotrexate (MTX), minocycline, and sulfasalazine
(therapies are listed alphabetically; azathioprine and cyclosporine were considered but not included). DMARD monotherapy refers to treatment in
most instances with HCQ, LEF, MTX, or sulfasalazine; in few instances, where appropriate, minocycline may also be used. Anti–tumor necrosis
factor (anti-TNF) biologics include adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, etanercept, infliximab, and golimumab. Non-TNF biologics include abatacept,
rituximab, or tocilizumab (therapies are listed alphabetically). For the level of evidence supporting each recommendation, please see Supplemen-
tary Appendix 7 (available in the online version of this article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658).
* Definitions of disease activity are discussed in Tables 2 and 3 and Supplementary Appendix 4 (available in the online version of this article at
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)2151-4658) and were categorized as low, moderate, or high.
† Features of poor prognosis included the presence of 1 or more of the following: functional limitation (e.g., Health Assessment Questionnaire score
or similar valid tools), extraarticular disease (e.g., presence of rheumatoid nodules, RA vasculitis, Felty’s syndrome), positive rheumatoid factor or
anti–cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (33–37), and bony erosions by radiograph (38).
‡ Combination DMARD therapy with 2 DMARDs, which is most commonly MTX based, with few exceptions (e.g., MTX ? HCQ, MTX ? LEF,
MTX ? sulfasalazine, sulfasalazine ? HCQ), and triple therapy (MTX ? HCQ ? sulfasalazine).
§ Reassess after 3 months and proceed with escalating therapy if moderate or high disease activity in all instances except after treatment with a
non-TNF biologic (rectangle D), where reassessment is recommended at 6 months due to a longer anticipated time for peak effect.
¶ LEF can be added in patients with low disease activity after 3–6 months of minocycline, HCQ, MTX, or sulfasalazine.
# If after 3 months of intensified DMARD combination therapy or after a second DMARD has failed, the option is to add or switch to an anti-TNF
** Serious adverse events were defined per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA; see below); all other adverse events were considered
nonserious adverse events.
†† Reassessment after treatment with a non-TNF biologic is recommended at 6 months due to anticipation that a longer time to peak effect is needed
for non-TNF compared to anti-TNF biologics.
‡‡ Any adverse event was defined as per the US FDA as any undesirable experience associated with the use of a medical product in a patient. The
FDA definition of serious adverse event includes death, life-threatening event, initial or prolonged hospitalization, disability, congenital anomaly,
or an adverse event requiring intervention to prevent permanent impairment or damage.
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations633
verse event, switch to another anti-TNF biologic or a non-
TNF biologic (rectangle F of Figure 2; level of evidence B
If a patient has moderate or high disease activity after
failing a non-TNF biologic because of an adverse event
(serious or nonserious), switch to another non-TNF bio-
logic or an anti-TNF biologic (rectangle F of Figure 2; level
of evidence C).
2. Use of biologic agents in RA patients with hepatitis,
malignancy, or CHF, qualifying for more aggressive treat-
ment (level of evidence C for all recommendations).
Hepatitis B or C. The panel recommends that etanercept
could potentially be used in RA patients with hepatitis C
requiring RA treatment (Table 4).
The panel also recommends not using biologic agents in
RA patients with untreated chronic hepatitis B (disease
not treated due to contraindications to treatment or intol-
erable adverse events) and in RA patients with treated
chronic hepatitis B with Child-Pugh class B and higher
(Table 4; for details of Child-Pugh classification, see Table
2) (12). The panel did not make recommendations regard-
ing the use of any biologic agent for treatment in RA
patients with a history of hepatitis B and a positive hepa-
titis B core antibody.
Malignancies. For patients who have been treated for
solid malignancies more than 5 years ago or who have
been treated for nonmelanoma skin cancer more than 5
years ago, the panel recommends starting or resuming any
biologic agent if those patients would otherwise qualify for
this RA management strategy (Table 4).
The panel only recommends starting or resuming ritux-
imab in RA patients with: 1) a previously treated solid
malignancy within the last 5 years, 2) a previously treated
nonmelanoma skin cancer within the last 5 years, 3) a
previously treated melanoma skin cancer, or 4) a previ-
ously treated lymphoproliferative malignancy. Little is
known about the effects of biologic therapy in patients
with a history of a solid cancer within the past 5 years
owing to the exclusion of such patients from participation
in clinical trials and the lack of studies examining the risk
of recurrent cancer in this subgroup of patients.
CHF. The panel recommends not using an anti-TNF
biologic in RA patients with CHF that is New York Heart
Association (NYHA) class III or IV and who have an ejec-
tion fraction of 50% or less (Table 4) (13).
3. TB screening for biologic agents (level of evidence C
for all recommendations except for initiation of biologic
agents in patients being treated for latent TB infection
[LTBI], where the level of evidence is B). The panel rec-
ommends screening to identify LTBI in all RA patients
being considered for therapy with biologic agents, regard-
less of the presence of risk factors for LTBI (diamond A of
Figure 3) (14). It recommends that clinicians assess the
patient’s medical history to identify risk factors for TB
(specified by the CDC) (Table 2).
The panel recommends the tuberculin skin test (TST) or
interferon-?–release assays (IGRAs) as the initial test in all
RA patients starting biologic agents, regardless of risk fac-
tors for LTBI (diamond A of Figure 3). It recommends the
use of the IGRA over the TST in patients who had previ-
Table 4. 2012 American College of Rheumatology recommendations update for the use of biologic agents in patients otherwise
qualifying for the rheumatoid arthritis treatment with a history of hepatitis, malignancy, or congestive heart failure*
Comorbidity/clinical circumstance RecommendedNot recommended
Untreated chronic hepatitis B or with treated chronic
hepatitis B with Child-Pugh class B and higher†
Treated solid malignancy ?5 years ago or treated
nonmelanoma skin cancer ?5 years ago
Treated solid malignancy within the last 5 years or
treated nonmelanoma skin cancer within the last 5
Treated skin melanoma‡
Treated lymphoproliferative malignancy
Congestive heart failure
NYHA class III/IV and with an ejection fraction of
C Any biologic agent
Any biologic agentC
* For definitions and key terms, please refer to Table 2. NYHA ? New York Heart Association; anti-TNF ? anti–tumor necrosis factor.
† Therapy defined as an antiviral regimen deemed appropriate by an expert in liver diseases. The Child-Pugh classification liver disease scoring system
is based on the presence of albumin, ascites, total bilirubin, prothrombin time, and encephalopathy. Patients with a score of 10 or more (in the class
C category) have a prognosis with 1-year survival being ?50%. Patients with class A or B have a better prognosis of 5 years, with a survival rate of
‡ Little is known about the effects of biologic therapy on solid cancers treated within the past 5 years, due to exclusion of these patients from most
randomized controlled trials.
§ NYHA class III ? patients with cardiac disease resulting in marked limitation of physical activity. They are comfortable at rest. Less than ordinary
physical activity causes fatigue, palpitation, dyspnea, or anginal pain. NYHA class IV ? patients with cardiac disease resulting in inability to carry out
any physical activity without discomfort. Symptoms of cardiac insufficiency or of anginal syndrome may be present even at rest. If any physical activity
is undertaken, discomfort is increased (13).
634Singh et al
No Latent or Active TB
(presume uninfected) §
TST *or IGRA †
(only if TB risk factors ‡
If risk factors
for future or ongoing TB
screen annually for
Latent TB ††
AFB (to rule out
active TB) #
Latent TB **
Active TB **
Completion of at least 1 month
treatment for latent TB **
Start (or resume) biologic immediately
Completion of treatment for
active TB **
TB Screening for
Figure 3. 2012 American College of Rheumatology recommendations update for tuberculosis (TB) screening with biologic agent use. Depending
on a patient’s current therapy, the management may begin at an appropriate rectangle in the figure, rather than only at the top of the figure. The level
of evidence supporting each recommendation for TB reactivation was “C,” except for initiation of biologic agents in patients being treated for latent
TB infection, where the level of evidence was “B.”
* Anergy panel testing is not recommended.
† Interferon-?–release assay (IGRA) is preferred if the patient has a history of BCG vaccination.
‡ Risk factors for TB exposure are defined based on a publication from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as: close contacts of
persons known or suspected to have active TB; foreign-born persons from areas that have a high incidence of active TB (e.g., Africa, Asia, Eastern
Europe, Latin America, and Russia); persons who visit areas with a high prevalence of active TB, especially if visits are frequent or prolonged;
residents and employees of congregate settings whose clients are at an increased risk for active TB (e.g., correctional facilities, long-term care
facilities, and homeless shelters); health care workers who serve clients who are at an increased risk for active TB; populations defined locally as
having an increased incidence of latent Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection or active TB, possibly including medically underserved, low-income
populations, or persons who abuse drugs or alcohol; and infants, children, and adolescents exposed to adults who are at an increased risk for latent
M tuberculosis infection or active TB (14).
§ If the patient is immunosuppressed and false-negative results are more likely, consider repeating screening test(s) with tuberculin skin test (TST)
¶ Chest radiograph may also be considered when clinically indicated in patients with risk factors, even with a negative repeat TST or IGRA.
# Obtain respiratory (e.g., sputum, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid) or other samples as clinically appropriate for acid-fast bacilli (AFB) smear and
culture and consider referral to a TB specialist for further evaluation and treatment.
** In a patient diagnosed with latent or active TB, consider referral to a specialist for the recommended treatment.
†† Patients who test positive for TST or IGRA at baseline often remain positive for these tests even after successful treatment of TB. These patients
need monitoring for clinical signs and symptoms of recurrent TB disease, since repeating tests will not allow help in diagnosis of recurrent TB.
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations635
ously received a BCG vaccination, due to the high false-
positive test rates for TST (Figure 3).
The panel recommends that RA patients with a positive
initial or repeat TST or IGRA should have a chest radio-
graph and, if suggestive of active TB, a subsequent sputum
examination to check for the presence of active TB (dia-
monds B and C of Figure 3). RA patients with a negative
screening TST or IGRA may not need further evaluation in
the absence of risk factors and/or clinical suspicion for TB.
Since patients with RA may have false-negative TST or
IGRA results due to immunosuppression, a negative TST
or IGRA should not be interpreted as excluding the possi-
bility that a patient has LTBI. Accordingly, in immunosup-
pressed RA patients with risk factors for LTBI and negative
initial screening tests, the panel recommends that a repeat
TST or IGRA could be considered 1–3 weeks after the
initial negative screening (diamond A of Figure 3).
If the RA patient has active or latent TB based on the test
results, the panel recommends appropriate antitubercular
treatment and consideration of referral to a specialist.
Treatment with biologic agents can be initiated or resumed
after 1 month of latent TB treatment with antitubercular
medications and after completion of the treatment of ac-
tive TB, as applicable (Figure 3).
The panel recommends annual testing in RA patients
who live, travel, or work in situations where TB exposure
is likely while they continue treatment with biologic
agents (diamond D of Figure 3). Patients who test positive
for TST or IGRA at baseline can remain positive for these
tests even after successful treatment of TB. These patients
need monitoring for clinical signs and symptoms of recur-
rent TB, since repeating tests will not help in the diagnosis
of recurrent TB.
4. Vaccination in patients starting or currently receiv-
ing DMARDs or biologic agents as part of their RA ther-
apy (level of evidence C for all recommendations). The
panel recommends that all killed (pneumococcal, influ-
enza intramuscular, and hepatitis B), recombinant (human
papillomavirus [HPV] vaccine for cervical cancer), and
live attenuated (herpes zoster) vaccinations should be un-
dertaken before starting a DMARD or a biologic agent
It also recommends that, if not previously done, vacci-
nation with indicated pneumococcal (killed), influenza
intramuscular (killed), hepatitis B (killed), and HPV vac-
cine (recombinant) should be undertaken in RA patients
already taking a DMARD or a biologic agent (Table 5).
The panel recommends vaccination with herpes zoster
vaccine in RA patients already taking a DMARD. All vac-
cines should be given based on age and risk, and physi-
cians should refer to vaccine instructions and CDC recom-
mendations for details about dosing and timing issues
related to vaccinations.
We updated the 2008 ACR RA recommendations for the
treatment of RA (1) using the scientific evidence and a
rigorous evidence-based group consensus process. The
2012 update addresses the use of DMARDs and biologic
agents, switching between therapies, the use of biologic
agents in high-risk patients, TB screening with the use of
biologic agents, and vaccination in patients with RA re-
ceiving DMARDs or biologic agents.
The rigorous process to which we referred above in-
cluded a comprehensive updated literature review, data
Table 5. 2012 American College of Rheumatology recommendations update regarding the use of vaccines in patients with RA
starting or currently receiving DMARDs or biologic agents*
(intramuscular) Hepatitis B‡
Before initiating therapy
While already taking therapy
* Evidence level was C for all of the vaccination recommendations. For definitions and key terms, please refer to Table 2. DMARDs ? disease-
modifying antirheumatic drugs; ? ? recommend vaccination when indicated (based on age and risk); anti-TNF ? anti–tumor necrosis factor.
† The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends a one-time pneumococcal revaccination after 5 years for persons with chronic
conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). For persons ages ?65 years, one-time revaccination is recommended if they were vaccinated ?5 years
previously and were age ?65 years at the time of the primary vaccination.
‡ If hepatitis risk factors are present (e.g., intravenous drug abuse, multiple sex partners in the previous 6 months, health care personnel).
§ DMARDs include hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, methotrexate, minocycline, and sulfasalazine (listed alphabetically) and combination DMARD
therapy included double (most methotrexate based, with few exceptions) or triple therapy (hydroxychloroquine ? methotrexate ? sulfasalazine).
¶ Anti-TNF biologics include adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, etanercept, golimumab, and infliximab (listed alphabetically).
# Non-TNF biologics include abatacept, rituximab, and tocilizumab (listed alphabetically).
** According to the RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method, panel members judged it as “not appropriate” and therefore it qualifies as “not
recommended” (median score on appropriateness scale was 1).
636 Singh et al
review by a panel of international experts, and use of a
well-accepted validated process for developing recom-
Because we used the same method for this update as the
2008 ACR RA recommendations, we were able to incorpo-
rate the evidence from the 2008 process and comprehen-
sively update the recommendations. Consistent with the
common need to extrapolate from clinical experience in
the absence of higher-tier evidence, many of these new
recommendations (approximately 79%) were associated
with level C evidence.
These recommendations aim to address common ques-
tions facing both patients with RA and the treating health
care providers. Since the recommendations were derived
considering the “common patients, not exceptional cases,”
they are likely to be applicable to a majority of RA patients,
although not all patients. As always, clinical judgment
must be used. The emergence of several new therapies for
RA in the last decade has led to great excitement in the
field of rheumatology as well as provided patients and
health care providers with multiple options for treatment.
The 2008 recommendations and 2012 update attempt to
simplify the treatment algorithms for patients and provid-
ers. These recommendations provide clinicians with
choices for treatments of patients with active RA, both in
early and established disease phases.
Recommendations also provide guidance regarding
treatment choices in RA patients with comorbidities such
as hepatitis, CHF, and malignancy. In particular, the risk
for TB reactivation has become an increasingly common
concern for clinicians and patients treating RA patients
with biologic agents. The algorithm recommended pro-
vides a comprehensive approach for many RA patients.
Due to an increasing awareness of risk of preventable
diseases such an influenza and pneumonia (especially in
the elderly), immunizations are very important in patients
with RA. Several recommendations address this important
aspect of vaccination of RA patients. Because these recom-
mendations were heavily informed by CDC guidance and
minimal additional information was found in the broader
literature search, our TB screening and vaccination recom-
mendations are concordant with the CDC recommenda-
The goal for each RA patient should be low disease
activity or remission. In ideal circumstances, RA remis-
sion should be the target of therapy, but in others, low
disease activity may be an acceptable target. But for other
patients, the decision about what the target should be for
each patient is appropriately left to the clinician caring for
each RA patient, in the context of patient preferences,
comorbidities, and other individual considerations. There-
fore, this article does not recommend a specific target for
all patients. Of note, the panel recommended more aggres-
sive treatment in patients with early RA than in the 2008
ACR recommendations. We speculate that this may be
related to several reasons: 1) the expectation that the ear-
lier the treatment the better the outcome, 2) the thought
that joint damage is largely irreversible so prevention of
damage is an important goal, and 3) the data that early
intensive therapy may provide the best opportunity to
preserve physical function and health-related quality of
life and reduce work-related disability (15–22).
As with all recommendations, these recommendations
apply to common clinical scenarios, and only a clinician’s
assessment in collaboration with the patient allows for the
best risk–benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis. These
recommendations cannot adequately convey all uncertain-
ties and nuances of patient care in the real world. For
example, the panel did not vote on the possibility of tem-
porarily holding biologic therapy to facilitate administra-
tion of the live herpes zoster vaccine among older patients
and then resuming the biologic agent shortly thereafter.
All recommendations were based on scientific evidence
coupled with our formal group process rather than only
the approved indications from regulatory agencies. Al-
though new classification criteria for RA (ACR/European
League Against Rheumatism collaborative initiative) were
published in September 2010 (23), the studies evaluated
for the 2012 recommendations relied on the use of the
1987 ACR RA classification criteria (24) because our liter-
ature review preceded the publication of the new criteria.
The need to create recommendations that cover a com-
prehensive array of relevant clinical decisions has led to
many recommendations that combine literature-based
data and expert opinion, and thus are labeled as level C
evidence. For example, rituximab was recommended as
appropriate in patients with previously treated solid ma-
lignancy within the last 5 years or a previously treated
nonmelanoma skin cancer within the last 5 years, which is
a level C recommendation since the evidence is based on
clinical trial extensions and observational data. It is im-
portant to note that the limited evidence available support-
ing this recommendation comes primarily from non-RA
populations that included cancer patients. In addition, the
panel ratings did not achieve the level of appropriateness
needed to recommend other biologic therapies in this cir-
cumstance since most of the panelists’ ratings were “un-
certain.” Like many of the other recommendations put
forth, this recommendation was grounded, in part, on ex-
pert consensus and serves to highlight an important evi-
dence gap in RA management.
In some cases the panelists did not make a specific
recommendation statement. This occurred when ratings
reflected uncertainty over a particular potential clinical
scenario or when there was inability to reach consensus. In
these cases, given a lack of clear evidence or clear consen-
sus, therapeutic decisions are best left to the careful con-
sideration of risks/benefits by the individual patient and
physician. These areas could be the subject of future re-
search agendas and recommendations updates.
We anticipate that in the future, data using the new RA
classification criteria (23) may be available for evidence
synthesis and formulating recommendations. Recommen-
dations regarding the use of other antiinflammatory med-
ications, such as nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs and
intraarticular and oral corticosteroids, and nonpharmaco-
logic therapies (such as physical and occupational thera-
pies) were not within the purview of this update, although
these may be important components of RA treatment and
could also be included in separate reviews or recommen-
dations. For example, recommendations related to gluco-
corticoid use in RA have been published by other profes-
sional organizations (25). In the future, the ACR may
decide to develop broader RA guidelines that include ther-
2012 ACR RA Treatment Recommendations 637
apies that are not in this article. In addition, due to the
infrequent use of gold, anakinra, cyclosporine, and aza-
thioprine, scenarios for these medications were not in-
cluded in this update.
In summary, we provide updated recommendations for
the use of nonbiologic and biologic treatments in RA fol-
lowing the same methodology used to develop the 2008
ACR RA recommendations. While these recommendations
are extensive and include new areas and new agents not
covered in 2008, they are not comprehensive. These rec-
ommendations, which focus on common clinical scenar-
ios, should be used as a guide for clinicians treating RA
patients, with the clear understanding that the best treat-
ment decision can only be made by the clinician in dis-
cussions with patients, taking into account their risk/ben-
efit assessment, including consideration of comorbidities
and concomitant medications, patient preferences, and
practical economic considerations. These recommenda-
tions are not intended to determine criteria for payment or
coverage of health care services. As with this 2012 update,
the ACR plans to periodically update RA treatment recom-
mendations depending upon the availability of new ther-
apies, new evidence on the benefits and harms of existing
treatments, and changes in policies to reflect the rapidly
evolving cutting-edge care of RA patients.
Addendum. Therapies that were approved after the
original literature review are not included in these recom-
We thank Ms Mary Elkins Melton for administrative sup-
port, the ACR staff (Ms Regina Parker and Ms Amy Miller)
for assistance in organizing the face-to-face meeting, and
Ms Amy Miller for help in revision of the manuscript. We
thank Dr. Michael Saag (University of Alabama at Birming-
ham) for providing expert advice regarding new literature
related to clinical scenarios of infection risk in the context
of biologic agents. We thank our 2 clinical colleagues, Dr.
Anthony Turkiewicz and Dr. Gary Feldman, for reviewing
the recommendations and providing initial comments. We
thank Dr. Cheryl Perry of the University of Alabama at
Birmingham Center for Clinical and Translational Science
for her help in copyediting this manuscript. We thank Dr.
Ruiz Garcia of Me ´dico Adjunto de la Unidad de Hospital-
izacio ´n a Domicilio, Spain, for providing data from their
Cochrane systematic review on certolizumab pegol in RA.
All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it
critically for important intellectual content, and all authors ap-
proved the final version to be published. Dr. Singh had full access
to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the
integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Study conception and design. Singh, Furst, Bharat, Curtis, More-
land, O’Dell, Beukelman, Bridges, Paulus, Suarez-Almazor, Dou-
gados, Jain, Agrawal, Patkar, Saag.
Acquisition of data. Singh, Furst, Bharat, Kavanaugh, Kremer,
Beukelman, Bombardier, Dougados, Khanna, King, Jain, Volk-
mann, Agrawal, Bae, Patkar, Saag.
Analysis and interpretation of data. Singh, Furst, Bharat, Curtis,
Kavanaugh, Kremer, Moreland, O’Dell, Winthrop, Beukelman,
Bridges, Chatham, Paulus, Suarez-Almazor, Dougados, Khanna,
King, Leong, Matteson, Schousboe, Moynihan, Kolba, Agrawal,
Mudano, Patkar, Saag.
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