A new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has proven effective in two separate trials, evidence suggests.
Tocilizumab (brand name Actemra, by Roche) was found to cut symptoms in both adults and children.
Previous studies have revealed that the drug slows down progression of the disease and works best when used in combination with the standard treatment methotrexate.
Tocilizumab targets the receptors of interleukin-6, a signalling molecule known to stimulate the growth of cells.
Experts writing in The Lancet medical journal have published the results of a phase III clinical trial on 623 patients with moderate to severe RA.
Professor Josef Smolen, from the division of rheumatology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, carried out the study with colleagues.
Overall 205 patients received the drug at a rate of 8mg per kg of body weight, while a further 214 patients received the drug at 4mg per kg of body weight. The rest of the group received a placebo.
The drugs and placebo were given intravenously every four weeks, along with methotrexate, at doses of 10-25mg per week.
The aim was to work out how many patients would see a 20% improvement, according to criteria set by the American College of Rheumatology (known as the ACR20 response).
At 24 weeks, 59% of patients receiving the 8mg dose had recorded an ACR20 response.
In those receiving 4mg, 48% recorded a response, compared with 26% in the placebo group.
The authors said: “These data provide evidence that inhibition of interleukin-6-mediated proinflammatory effects significantly and rapidly improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
“Thus tocilizumab could be an effective agent for the treatment of patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.”
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