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Rituxan Eases Rheumatoid Arthritis

A study says the use of the Genentech drug and methotrexate offers relief from symptoms.

June 10, 2005|From Reuters

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis who took Genentech Inc.'s drug Rituxan saw their symptoms abate in a large clinical trial, reaffirming positive results seen in earlier trials.

Genentech and its partner, Biogen Idec Inc., already sell Rituxan as a treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system. But they are testing it against rheumatoid arthritis, the crippling less-common form of arthritis in which the body's own immune system attacks joints.

The companies Thursday presented data from a mid-stage trial of 465 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who previously failed to adequately benefit from the widely used drug methotrexate. They had all also failed to adequately respond to drugs meant to slow the progression of damage from arthritis.

All patients received a stable dose of methotrexate. Some received varying doses of Rituxan, with or without corticosteroids -- potent synthetic hormones that calm down inflammation but can cause serious side effects.

A greater proportion of patients treated with Rituxan and methotrexate saw relief after six months than those who took placebos and methotrexate. And the improvement in the Rituxan group was seen regardless of whether patients were given corticosteroids.

"That was an important finding because doctors would prefer, if possible, not to give corticosteroids to their patients," Sunil Agarwal, Genentech's medical director, said in an interview.

In earlier Rituxan arthritis trials, patients were given very high doses of corticosteroids.

Researchers said arthritis patients taking Rituxan in the future would be given far lower doses of corticosteroids, which help decrease the severity of allergic skin reactions to Rituxan infusions.

Although corticosteroids help control inflammation, they can weaken the immune system and thereby increase the risk of infection. They also can increase the risk of cataracts and other eye problems and lead to high blood pressure.

Results of the new study were presented at a scientific meeting in Vienna. Shares of Genentech, based in South San Francisco, rose $1.83 to $80.93.

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