A new drug for a debilitating form of spinal arthritis is to be made freely available on the NHS for the first 12 weeks of treatment under a deal struck with its manufacturer.
Certolizumab, marketed as Cimzia, was launched in the UK and Ireland for the treatment of adults with severe active axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA).
The chronic and progressive inflammatory condition affects around 1% of the UK population, or 630,000 people, often causing severe back pain that is undiagnosed and unexplained.
It produces symptoms that include pain which improves with exercise, painful inflammation of tendons and ligaments, arthritis, and sore red eyes.
There may also be damage to the pelvis, which can be seen on an X-ray.
In a recent trial, Cimzia significantly improved the symptoms of patients with axSpA over a period of three months.
The deal agreed between the Brussels-based pharmaceutical company UCB and the NHS means that the drug, costing £10,000 a year, can be freely offered to eligible patients for 12 weeks.
Inflammatory back pain is difficult to diagnose and often confused with mechanical back pain, which usually has effects that are short-lived.
Debbie Cooke, director of the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society, said: " Often people live for many years suffering with the pain and disability of this condition because a correct diagnosis has not been made. This is distressing for patients, especially when you consider that irreversible damage may have occurred due to a delayed diagnosis.
"This is made even worse when you know that treatments are now available for them."
Dr Stefan Siebert, a senior lecturer in rheumatology at the University of Glasgow, said: "For years, early diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis has proved challenging, with no effective treatments.
"However, with advances in imaging technology, better diagnostic criteria and new treatments we now have the opportunity to improve patients' symptoms and avert long-term disability.
" Although there is no cure for this condition, certolizumab represents a v aluable additional treatment choice for a potentially debilitating disease."