WEDNESDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- A drug already used to treat lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis shows promise as an option to treat rare forms of vasculitis, a disease affecting the blood vessels, according to two new studies.
The drug, rituximab, appeared to be as effective as the current standard, cyclophosphamide, in treating antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis.
Rituximab may even be superior to cyclophosphamide in treating disease recurrences, the researchers found.
This is the first time in 40 years that a new drug has emerged to treat these conditions, according to the authors of the studies, both appearing in the July 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This trial has demonstrated for the first time there is an effective alternative to cyclophosphamide for remission induction, and there are a variety of results that make us think that rituximab should be the treatment of choice for remission induction," said Dr. John H. Stone, director of clinical rheumatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, referring to one of the studies, of which he was first author.
"I think these are two very important pivotal studies that bring hope to patients with ANCA vasculitis. And despite the fact that they are relatively small studies, they are proof of principle that this medicine has the ability to get rid of the group of cells that produce the [antibody]," added Dr. Ronald J. Falk, director of the University of North Carolina Kidney Center at Chapel Hill, and author of an accompanying editorial. "These antibodies are actually causing the disease, so by getting rid of them, one is really now attacking the disease cause rather than just disease symptoms."
"ANCA-associated vasculitis consists of two primary diseases, Wegener's granulomatosis and microscopic polyangitis," explained Stone.
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