A leading charity has hailed a decision to approve NHS funding for a new arthritis drug as a "triumph" for thousands of sufferers.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has ruled that MabThera is a cost-effective treatment for patients who are severely affected by the disease.
At £4,657 to treat one patient for a year, the drug is almost half as expensive as other available therapies.
The decision means doctors in England and Wales will now be able to prescribe the drug to NHS patients who have not responded to other treatments.
It is already freely available to people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in Scotland, and seems likely to be made available to patients in Northern Ireland, as health service providers in the province tend to follow guidance issued by NICE.
Arthritis Care's chief executive Neil Betteridge, who has had RA since the age of three, welcomed the decision.
He said: "It's a triumph. The search for effective treatment can be a long, agonising journey, littered with dashed hopes. Now there is no excuse for denying this drug on any but clinical grounds.
"NICE has shown that it understands the benefit of expanding the range of choices for individuals who have exhausted other options, and would otherwise face the bleak prospect of palliative care, and a return to drugs that have already failed them."