Study shows rheumatoid arthritis drug may prevent disease progression

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London, Feb 14 (IANS) A drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could also prevent the disease in individuals deemed to be at risk.

Results from a Phase 2b clinical trial, published in The Lancet, provides hope for arthritis sufferers after it was shown that the biologic drug abatacept reduces progression to this agonising chronic inflammatory disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects millions of people worldwide and develops when the body’s immune system attacks itself, causing joint pain, swelling and significant disability.

The disease most commonly begins in middle age, but much younger age groups can be afflicted, and until now there is no cure or prevention.

Abatacept is currently used as an effective second or third line treatment for people living with established rheumatoid arthritis and is given by weekly injections at home or in hospital via a drip.

Researchers from King’s College London, UK, recruited 213 patients at high risk of the disease to understand whether a year-long treatment of the biologic drug could be used to prevent progression to rheumatoid arthritis.

They recruited men and women over the age of 18 with early symptoms such as joint pain but no joint swelling, and treated half with the drug and half with a placebo every week for a year.

The study drug was then stopped, and study participants monitored for a further 12 months.

After twelve months of treatment, 6 per cent of patients treated with abatacept had developed arthritis compared to 29 per cent in the placebo arm.

By 24 months, the differences were still significant, with a total of 25 per cent progressing to rheumatoid arthritis in the abatacept arm compared to 37 per cent in the placebo arm.

“This is the largest rheumatoid arthritis prevention trial to date and the first to show that a therapy licensed for use in treating established rheumatoid arthritis is also effective in preventing the onset of disease in people at risk,” said Prof. Andrew Cope, from King’s College London.

“These initial results could be good news for people at risk of arthritis as we show that the drug not only prevents disease onset during the treatment phase but can also ease symptoms such as pain and fatigue. This is also promising news for the NHS as the disease affects people as they age and will become more expensive to treat with a growing ageing population,” he added.

The trial also showed that abatacept was associated with improvements in pain scores, function and quality of life measurements, as well as lower scores of inflammation of the lining of joints detectable by ultrasound scan.



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