HomeHealthArthritis drug offers hope to prevent suffering

Arthritis drug offers hope to prevent suffering

Scientists have taken the next step in treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA), conscripting an existing treatment into a preventative measure.

RA is a chronic, long-term disease that causes pain and swelling in the joints.

It can be treated, but not cured and, until now, there was no way of preventing it. Repurposing an existing RA treatment drug is showing promising results.

A clinical trial has shown that the drug abatacept is effective in preventing the onset of RA.

People with RA are routinely given abatacept to target inflammation and reduce the activity of the immune system.

T-cell toned down

Normally, the immune system creates inflammation to protect the body from infections. But in some conditions, a group of cells in the immune system, called T-cells, cause unnecessary inflammation that damages the body’s healthy tissue.

Abatacept works by reducing the activity of these T-cells, which in turn reduces inflammation, pain, swelling and joint damage.

The study recruited more than 200 adults aged 18 or over from the UK and the Netherlands who were at risk of developing RA.

About half were given abatacept, and the rest a placebo. 

The estimated proportion of patients remaining arthritis free at 12 months was 92.8 per cent in the abatacept group and 69.2 per cent in the placebo group.

After two years, 27 (25 per cent) members of the abatacept group had progressed to RA compared with 38 (37 per cent) in the placebo group.


“This is the largest rheumatoid arthritis prevention trial to date and the first to show that a therapy licensed for use in treating established rheumatoid arthritis is also effective in preventing the onset of disease in people at risk,” said Professor Andrew Cope, who worked on the project. 

“These initial results could be good news for people at risk of arthritis as we show that the drug not only prevents disease onset during the treatment phase but can also ease symptoms such as pain and fatigue.

“This is also promising as the disease affects people as they age and will become more expensive to treat with a growing ageing population.”

The trial showed that the drug improved pain scores, function and quality of life measures, as well as lowering scores for inflammation of the lining of the joints.

“There are currently no drugs available that prevent this potentially crippling disease,” Prof. Cope said.

“Our next steps are to understand people at risk in more detail so that we can be absolutely sure that those at highest risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis receive the drug.”

RA facts

RA is an autoimmune disease, which means your body doesn’t recognise the tissue lining your joints and attacks it, causing the joints to become swollen and painful.

It usually affects smaller joints such as in your hands and feet, but can also affect larger ones such as knees and hips.

It differs from osteoarthritis in that it attacks your joints, whereas osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects your joints breaks down.

The causes of RA are unknown, but risk factors include smoking, obesity, exposure to air pollution, gender, age and genetics.

And you probably know someone who suffers from it, as it affects almost one in 50 people in Australia and is more common in women than men. In fact, it is two to three times more common in women.

People with RA often suffer from fatigue, general malaise (e.g., fever, poor sleep quality, loss of appetite) and may experience depressive symptoms.

It can also lead to heart, lung or nervous system problems.

Do you suffer from arthritis? What sort of treatment works for you? Why not share in the comments section below?

Also read: Blood flow restriction may help relieve arthritis

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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