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New hope for arthritis sufferers

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be halted in half of all cases with the use of a new drug combination, a study has shown.

The auto-immune condition, which affects 487,000 people in the UK, occurs when the body attacks its own joints, leading to severe disability and pain.

Tocilizumab, an antibody drug, now offers new hope to those suffering from the disease, especially if administered in the early stages.

Research has shown that adding tocilizumab to an existing treatment, methotrexate, can achieve remission by stopping progression in almost 50% of cases.

The trial, led by Professor Paul Emery from the University of Leeds, showed that taking methotrexate alone produced a remission rate of just 8%.

The combination treatment slowed structural damage to joints by 85% on average, compared with 67% for methotrexate alone.

Professor Emery said: "Results of this pivotal study convincingly demonstrate that tocilizumab can effectively and rapidly diminish the painful and debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis.

"These trial findings are significant because it is critical to stop joint damage as quickly as possible to avoid joint deformity and to help people with RA maintain their quality of life."

The results, from the international LITHE trial, were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco.

Tocilizumab, which is already approved by European regulators, is expected to get its UK marketing license in January. It will be sold under the brand name RoActemra.

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American College of Rheumatology