A landmark clinical trial could see the current treatment regime for patients with rheumatoid arthritis turned on its head, it has been revealed.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the body`s immune system attacks its own joints, and the condition affects almost 500,000 people in the UK.
Treatment in the early stages of the condition can include anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, followed by disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which slow down progression and delay joint damage. The “gold standard” RA therapy is the DMARD methotrexate.
As the disease progresses to more severe levels, newer drugs called biologics may be used which work by blocking an immune system signalling molecule called tumour necrosis factor, or TNF.
Finally, after patients have failed to respond to an anti-TNF, they qualify for the antibody drug rituximab, marketed as MabThera. The injected drug – which was originally developed to treat leukaemia – targets specialised white blood cells which play a key role in the immune response behind RA.
The latest trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Amsterdam, shows that administering rituximab early, alongside methotrexate, can virtually stop the disease in its tracks.
Experts say the findings could lead to a “paradigm shift” in therapy.
Copyright Press Association 2009