A new “smart” drug is being hailed as a major breakthrough in combating the painful effects of rheumatoid arthritis, according to research.
Tocilizumab could save patients from years of worsening pain and disability caused by the crippling auto-immune disease which attacks the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the biggest cause of disability in the UK, affecting 420,000 people in England and Wales alone.
Trial results show that the new drug is nearly three times more effective at halting the progression of the disease than the standard therapy given to most patients.
Tocilizumab is not yet licensed for use in Europe, but is expected to be launched in Britain within six months.
The drug is a laboratory-made antibody that targets a biological signalling pathway linked to inflammation and RA.
It represents a step forward from MabThera, another antibody drug for RA, which is only available to late-stage patients who have ceased to respond to other therapies.
Both drugs are from Roche, which collaborated with the Japanese company Chugai Pharma to develop tocilizumab.
Data from two clinical trials of the new drug were presented at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (Eular) in Paris.
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