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Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Feb;38(4):265-80. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2008.01.001. Epub 2008 Mar 12.

Safety of biologic therapy in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases: focus on rituximab.

Author information

  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Metroplex Clinical Research Center, Dallas, TX 75235-5360, USA. rfleischmann@arthdocs.com



To review the safety of biologic agents used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune diseases, with a focus on rituximab.


Information was gathered from a search of the PubMed database and from major congress abstract listings through June 2007.


Rituximab is approved for treating RA in patients with an inadequate response to TNF inhibitors and is under study in other indications for RA and other autoimmune disorders. The current safety profile of rituximab in RA is known from Phase II and III studies conducted preapproval, treating approximately 750 patients, as well as from long-term extension studies with repeated therapy. Clinical trials have established that the most common adverse events are infusion-associated reactions, seen in 29 to 40% of patients, most of which are mild to moderate and occur following the first rituximab infusion, with incidence and severity decreasing with subsequent infusions. Rates of infections and serious infections to date are within the range expected for RA patients treated with other biologic agents, but the longer term effects of B-cell depletion and the effects of repeated treatment on the risk of infections are uncertain. Information is limited for rituximab safety in other autoimmune disorders but current data do not suggest that there is a significant difference in adverse events from that previously reported.


Rituximab is an important addition to the rheumatologist's armamentarium for the treatment of difficult RA and ongoing trials will determine its utility in other indications for RA and other autoimmune conditions. The true safety profile of rituximab will emerge as larger numbers of patients are treated in routine clinical practice.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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