'Big Step Forward' in Arthritis Drug Therapy

Article excerpt

A SIMPLE blood test could lead to a "new era" of tailored therapy for rheumatoid arthritis, it is claimed today. Research has shown patients with certain immune system antibodies are more likely to respond to an advanced form of treatment. Eighty per cent of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are believed to have one of the two antibodies.

Latest trial results show they have a good chance of being helped by the "biologic" drug rituximab, also known as MabThera, which targets the immune system. However, it may not be worth giving the drug to the 20% of patients who test negative.

Professor John Isaacs, from the University of Newcastle, who led the research, said: "This is an important breakthrough in the treatment of this chronic and debilitating condition, heralding the beginning of an exciting new era for patients, physicians and indeed the entire RA community. "Conventional practice is based on treating the patient population as a whole, leading to some patients cycling on ineffective treatments before achieving the optimum response.

"By identifying in advance which groups are most likely to respond to, or to have an enhanced response to, drugs like rituximab, we can ensure they are treated early enough to prevent irreversible joint damage and disability. …