New drug relieves rheumatoid arthritis

San Francisco: A new ‘smart drug’ which halts pain and disability for almost half of rheumatoid arthritis patients could go on sale in months.

The drug, called Tocilizumab, has not yet been licensed in Europe, contains a laboratory-made anti-body that blocks interleukin-6, an immune system messenger involved in the inflammation process of the disease. Drug maker Roche hopes to get a licence for sales next year.

The latest results from a trial carried out in 15 countries are to be presented to the American College of Rheumatology meeting in San Francisco.

It looked at the effects of Tocilizumab prescribed with the standard drug treatment, Methotrexate, compared to Methotrexate alone in 1,190 patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.

The combination treatment slowed structural damage of joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis by 85 per cent, compared with 67 per cent in those on standard treatment.

Researchers found 47 per cent of patients on combination treatment achieved remission – where the disease stops advancing – compared with just eight per cent of those treated with methotrexate alone.