New Drug May Treat RA When Others Fail

For rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers who do not get adequate relief from so-called TNF-inhibitors such as etanercept or infliximab, a new drug called Orencia may provide significant clinical and functional benefits, according to a study published this week. Orencia (abatacept;Bristol-Myers Squibb) is the first of a new class of drugs for RA. On September 6, an advisory panel to the US Food and Drug Administration unanimously agreed that the benefits of Orencia outweigh the risks and recommended that it be approved for marketing. Dr. Mark C. Genovese, from Stanford University Medical Center in California, and associates in the US and France randomly assigned 258 patients with acute RA who had failed anti-TNF therapy to Orencia and 133 similar patients to placebo. All patients continued to take their existing antirheumatic medication. According to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, at 6 months, more patients in the Orencia (50 percent) than in the placebo group (19 percent) had achieved "ACR 20 improvement" -- that is a decrease of at least 20 percent in the number of both tender and swollen joints. Marked improvement was noted from day 15 of treatment onward.

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