Existing Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Prevents the Disease

Written by Henrik Rothen

Feb.15 - 2024 12:43 PM CET

Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com
Existing Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Prevents the Disease.

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A drug already in use for treating rheumatoid arthritis has shown potential in slowing down or even halting the disease's progression, researchers claim.

The medication, used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, could also prevent the disease in individuals considered at risk. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation throughout the body and pain in the joints. Approximately 18 million people worldwide suffer from the condition, which can lead to complications in the heart, lungs, or nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. It usually appears in middle age but can also affect much younger people.

Currently, there is no therapy that prevents the disease.

Now, researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that an existing drug, abatacept, can help slow the disease's progression in those showing early symptoms. A clinical trial found that abatacept is "effective in preventing the onset" of the disease. Abatacept is prescribed to individuals already suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but a team led by King's College London explored whether it could prevent it in people considered at risk. The drug, administered intravenously, targets the cause of inflammation.

For the study, 213 patients from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands were recruited. All were assessed by researchers as individuals at early risk of developing the disease. Of the 213, 110 received abatacept, and the rest were given a placebo. Of the 110 individuals who received abatacept, the estimated percentage who still did not have arthritis at the end of treatment—12 months later—was 92.8%, compared to 69.2% in the placebo group. Two years later, 27 (25%) patients in the abatacept group had developed the disease compared to 38 (37%) in the placebo group.

"This is the largest study of rheumatoid arthritis prevention to date and the first to show that a therapy licensed for use in treating rheumatoid arthritis is also effective in preventing the onset of the disease in individuals at risk," said Professor Andrew Cope from King's College London.

"These initial results could be good news for individuals at risk of arthritis, as we show that the drug not only prevents the onset of the disease during the treatment phase but can also alleviate symptoms such as pain and fatigue," he added.

"Currently, there are no available drugs that prevent this potentially debilitating disease. Our next steps are to understand in more detail those at risk so we can be absolutely sure that those at the highest risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis will receive the drug," the researcher said.

A 35-year-old patient who suffered from joint pains began treatment with abatacept in 2018.

"Within a few months, I no longer had pains and discomforts, and five years later, I would say that I have been cured. Now, I can play football with my three-year-old son and have a normal life," he told The Guardian.

The findings of the study were published in the scientific journal "The Lancet".