Children suffering from juvenile arthritis given hope as new drug is approved

  • Drug blocks immune system messenger causing inflamed joints
  • More than a third of juvenile arthritis sufferers get early joint replacement

Hilary Freeman

17:00 EST, 7 December 2013


17:11 EST, 7 December 2013

Thousands of children with the  most severe type of juvenile arthritis can now benefit from a newly licensed drug that eases symptoms.

Trial data shows that after 40 weeks of treatment with the drug RoActemra (tocilizumab), two-thirds of those aged between two and 16 with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (pJIA) saw a 70 per cent improvement in symptoms, compared with those taking a placebo.

Currently incurable, pJIA is a  crippling inflammatory joint condition that affects about 2,300 British children. More than a third of them will need early joint replacement.

Able to play: The new drug works by blocking an immune system messenger called IL-6, which causes fever and inflammation in the joints

The disease can come on suddenly and affects five or more joints, causing stiffness, swelling, pain and limited movement. Some children end up in wheelchairs.

Tocilizumab, a drug previously  used to treat adult rheumatoid arthritis, works by blocking an immune system messenger called IL-6, which causes fever and inflammation in the joints  and organs.

It was licensed for pJIA following publication of data from a  trial demonstrating that children treated with the drug experienced meaningful improvements in the signs and  symptoms of pJIA.

Crippling: Thousands of children with juvenile arthritis go on to have early joint replacement

Dr Athimalaipet Ramanan, lead consultant in paediatric rheumatology  at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, says: ‘The fact that the drug will now be readily available for patients across the UK gives hope to hundreds of children that doing the things that other kids do in their day- to-day lives may soon be a reality.’

Judi Rhys, chief executive of the Arthritis Care charity, said: ‘This is fantastic news for children as it offers them hope for the future.’

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