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Drug "could aid juvenile arthritis"

A drug manufacturer is hoping a medicine which is currently reserved for adults can be approved to help transform the lives of children suffering with arthritis.

As many as 2,500 under-16s in the UK suffer from systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as Still's disease.

New research, presented at the European League Against Rheumatism (Eular) annual meeting in Rome, has found that the drug tocilizumab, marketed as RoActemra, can improve the condition in children by up to 90% after three month's treatment.

Experts believe systemic JIA - the worst form of JIA - is caused by an auto-immune condition.

The drug, which is currently only available to adults with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis, works by targeting the immune system, and manufacturer Roche hopes the drug will be approved for systemic JIA sufferers within two years.

Over the next five years, researchers will continue to assess the trial patients to conclude on the long-term effects of the treatment.

Rheumatology expert Professor Patricia Woo, from Great Ormond Street children's hospital in London, who led one of the UK arms of the trial, said: "This is a major advance for these young people."

Children with systemic JIA have high levels of an immune system cell-signalling molecule called IL-6 in their blood and joints.

Tocilizumab works by blocking the IL-6 biological pathway, preventing its signals from getting through.

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