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New Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Approved

Blocks immune system signal

MONDAY, Dec. 27 (HealthDay News ) -- A drug that fights painful rheumatoid arthritis by limiting a signal in a person's immune system has received government approval, its manufacturer announced.

Bristol-Myers Squibb says the medication with the generic name of abatacept (marketed as Orencia) received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval Dec. 23.

In clinical trials published in the Sept. 15, 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, abatacept more than doubled the odds that someone with difficult-to-treat rheumatoid arthritis had at least a 20 percent improvement in symptoms.

"Rheumatoid arthritis patients should be optimistic because there's now another option that works well, even where other drugs haven't," Dr. Mark Genovese, an associate professor of medicine and the associate division chief in immunology and rheumatology at Stanford University, told HealthDay. Genovese is the lead author of the study and also a paid consultant for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

More than 2 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. As the disease progresses, loss of movement and function in the affected joints can occur.

Current treatment options include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other pain relievers; oral steroids; anti-rheumatic drugs, such as methotrexate; and biologic response modifiers, such as etanercept and infliximab, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

According to Genovese, abatacept works by blocking a signal that fully activates the immune system's T-cells. Because the drug modifies the response of the immune system, the risk of infection is potentially increased.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health to learn more about arthritis.

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