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Novel Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Shows Early Promise
Date:9/22/2010

By Madonna Behen
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- A new targeted medication for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may benefit patients with this chronic autoimmune disease who aren't adequately helped by standard RA drug therapy, researchers say.

The oral medication, known as fostamatinib or R788, is part of a new class of drugs known as spleen tyrosine kinase (Syk) inhibitors, which work on the cellular level to block specific pathways that are responsible for joint inflammation. The drugs are similar to the breakthrough cancer drug Gleevec, which inhibits the growth of malignant cells.

"Our findings highlights the fact that there are other pathways that can be utilized in order to improve disease activity among people with rheumatoid arthritis," said Dr. Michael E. Weinblatt, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study, which was published September 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this phase 2 multi-center clinical trial, patients with RA who took fostamatinib along with methotrexate were twice as likely as those taking methotrexate and a placebo to have a clinically significant improvement in their disease after six months of treatment, the researchers found. What's more, roughly one third of the patients taking methotrexate and fostamatinib showed measurable benefits after just one week of therapy.

"This drug is particularly promising because it's an oral medication rather than an injectable therapy," added Weinblatt, who is co-director of clinical rheumatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Currently, some RA patients take injectable medications in a class of drugs called biologic response modifiers, which have been available for roughly a decade. Weinblatt said although these medications are effective, they are expensive (around $25,000 a year).

An estimated 1.3 million Americans have RA, which is a
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