Cancer Drug May Help Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers

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Rituximab may treat rheumatoid arthritis in novel way by more selectively targeting the B cells, which make antibodies that contribute to the disease process, according to research presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Preliminary results on the efficacy of rituximab, a drug used to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis were initially reported in 2000 at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting. In this follow-up 24-week study, researchers recruited 161 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis who were also receiving methotrexate. Patients were divided into four treatment groups: continuing methotrexate alone; receiving rituximab alone; receiving rituximab in combination with cyclophosphamide; and receiving rituximab in combination with methotrexate. Results showed that patients taking rituximab alone or in combination with either methotrexate or cyclophosphamide demonstrated significant clinical improvement in their arthritis. One patient taking rituximab alone developed pneumonia and died after five months of treatment; the patient’s doctor did not consider the death directly related to the study medication.

“Rituximab has a great advantage in that benefits lasts for many months at a time,” said Jonathan CW Edwards, MD, Professor in Connective Tissue Medicine, University College London and an investigator in the study. “However, further studies to ensure a high level of safety are needed before the drug can be generally recommended.”