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New Help for Rheumatoid Arthritis

June 14, 2007

Ivanhoe Newswire

There's new hope for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating chronic inflammatory disease. Researchers published their findings early in an online edition of The Lancet.

Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, studied three new drugs to test their efficacy as stand-alone treatments or as combination therapies with existing treatments. The drugs studied include rituximab (Rituxan), abatacept (Orencia) and tocilizumab (Actemra). Rituximab and abatacept have already been approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis; tocilizumab is currently in phase III trials.

Rituximab targets the CD20 antigen in cells and reduces CD20 cell count. Studies show it reduces symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by more than 50 percent in more than a third of patients. Abatacept, on the other hand, interferes in the T-cell activation response. One trial shows combining abatacept with an existing treatment reduces symptoms by 50 percent in about 40 percent of patients. The third drug -- tocilizumab -- goes after interleukin-6. A phase II trial shows tocilizumab combined with an existing treatment reduces symptoms by 50 percent in more than 40 percent of patients.

All three of the new drugs reduce symptoms and improve health and physical function of patients, report researchers. The drugs also slow the progression of joint damage.

Study authors write, "The emerging agents show that a new era has started in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis ... Targeting B cells, T-cell activation, and, probably, interleukin 6 constitute new principles for interference with the disease process. These new targets not only expand the array of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis but also provide important insights into pathogenesis of this disease."

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