Side effects included gastrointestinal bleeding, bronchitis, and gastroenteritis.
"The results of this placebo-controlled and open-label extension study with tocilizumab in children with systemic-onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis show a sustained clinical improvement and a favorable risk-benefit profile," the Japanese team wrote. "The findings of this study might represent a step forward in the control of a disease that has previously proved to be difficult to manage."
The study was funded by Chugai Pharmaceuticals.
Bongartz said tocilizumab may be worth a try with pediatric patients.
"The treatment options are pretty sparse, and children usually don't respond very well to methotrexate or other drugs, so here I think it's easier to decide in favor of initiating tocilizumab therapy," Bongartz said. "My threshold for initiating tocilizumab therapy would be lower, because I can't offer these children a lot of other choices."
New treatment options against rheumatoid arthritis are always welcome, Bongartz said. Still, he is cautious about using tocilizumab.
"It's another opportunity to offer treatment to patients who don't respond to first-, second- or third-line therapy, but I don't know if it works better than other established therapies. Based on the data available, it's almost impossible to make an informed decision about its benefits or potential harm," Bongartz said.
For more on arthritis, visit the Arthritis Association.
SOURCES: Tim Bongartz, M.D., department of internal medicine, division of rheumatology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn.; March 22, 2008, The Lancet
All rights reserved