An Antrim arthritis sufferer has welcomed news of a major advance in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that can stop the crippling disease in its tracks in 50% of cases, according to new trial data.
Shane McCaffrey said he was heartened by the news of the antibody drug tocilizumab, which offers new hope to the 487,000 people in the UK who suffer from the auto-immune condition, especially if administered at early stages of the disease.
Nothing can be done to reverse the damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which occurs when the body attacks its own joints, leading to severe disability and pain.
But the new results show adding tocilizumab to an existing treatment, methotrexate, can achieve remission by stopping progression of the disease in almost half of cases.
Taking methotrexate alone produced a remission rate of just 8% in the trial, led by Professor Paul Emery from the University of Leeds.
Mr McCaffrey, a world martial arts champion, has suffered from RA since the age of nine and was once so ravaged by the condition he had to have six of his toes amputated.
He has tried several different treatments over the years and is currently on Humira, which he takes alongside methotrexate, and is doing well.
“I had not heard of this trial until today but if this drug tocilizumab is as a good as it says on the tin, this is very good news for thousands of people in Northern Ireland with RA,” he said.
“The more treatment options that are out there, the better that is for RA patients and their families. I am a prime example of the need to try different treatments to find what suits you best.
“Every patient is individual and not every treatment will work as well — so to have one more out there is welcome.
“This could be particularly good for people who have just been diagnosed with arthritis because if you can nip it in the bud, the person will go on to live a much more active life.”
According to the trial, the combination treatment slowed structural damage to joints by 85% on average, compared with 67% for methotrexate alone.
Prof Emery said: “Results of this study convincingly demonstrate that tocilizumab can effectively and rapidly diminish the painful and debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis.
“These trial findings are significant because it is critical to stop joint damage as quickly as possible to avoid joint deformity and to help people with RA maintain their quality of life.”
The results, from the international LITHE trial, were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco.
They came as American research showed that after four decades of decline, rates of rheumatoid arthritis were now climbing among women in the United States.
The LITHE trial, conducted in 15 countries, involved 1,190 patients with moderate to severe RA who had shown an inadequate response to methotrexate.
Tocilizumab, which is already approved by European regulators, is expected to get its UK marketing license in January. It will be sold under the brand name Actemra.
Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), said: “We are encouraged by these findings, particularly as the treatment shows such promise of achieving remission, the ultimate goal for people with this cruel and debilitating disease.
“These results present new hope for the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in the UK.”