"These data provide evidence that inhibition of interleukin-6-mediated pro-inflammatory effects significantly and rapidly improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis," Smolen's team wrote. "Thus, tocilizumab could be an effective agent for the treatment of patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis."
But Bongatrz countered that "it's no surprise that tocilizumab works better than nothing [placebo]. The question is, does it work better than the alternatives we already have available?"
In addition, there are potential problems with tocilizumab, Bongartz said. For one, this study didn't show whether the drug slows the progression of the disease. Also, the drug significantly increased patients' cholesterol levels, which Bongartz finds troubling.
In the second report, Japanese researchers, led by Dr. Shumpei Yokota, of the department of pediatrics at Yokohama City University School of Medicine, started 56 children, ages 2 to 19, on tocilizumab. These children all had systemic-onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which did not respond to the usual arthritis treatment. This is a common problem with this type of arthritis, the researchers noted.
After six weeks, children who had achieved a 30 percent reduction in their arthritis symptoms were randomly assigned to continue to receive tocilizumab or a placebo.
Of the 43 children in that phase of the study, 16 out of 20 who received tocilizumab continued the improvement they had made in the first phase of the trial, compared with only four of 23 children receiving a placebo, the researchers found.
During an additional 48 weeks in which 48 children continued to receive tocilizumab, 47 children achieved a 30 percent reduction in their symptoms, 45 children achieved a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms, and 43 children ultimately achieve
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