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    New Drug Promising for Severe Form of Arthritis

    Already approved to treat psoriasis, higher dose of Cosentyx helped 60 percent of patients

    WebMD News from HealthDay

    By Amy Norton

    HealthDay Reporter

    WEDNESDAY, Dec. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A drug recently approved for the skin condition psoriasis may also help people with a debilitating form of arthritis that attacks the spine, a new clinical trial finds.

    The condition, called ankylosing spondylitis, causes inflammation around the vertebrae, which can lead to chronic pain and stiffness in the back and neck -- and, in some people, eventually cause some vertebrae to fuse into an immobile position.

    In the new trial, researchers found that a drug called secukinumab (Cosentyx) helped control symptoms in 61 percent of spondylitis patients who were given the highest dose.

    Experts said the results, published Dec. 24 in the New England Journal of Medicine, could open up a new option for managing spondylitis.

    And new options are needed, said Dr. Scott Zashin, a fellow with the American College of Rheumatology who was not involved in the study.

    "Currently, there are two classes of medications used to treat [spondylitis]," Zashin said.

    Namely, they are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as prescription-strength ibuprofen and naproxen; and drugs called TNF-blockers, which include Humira, Remicade and Enbrel.

    For some patients, Zashin said, those medications are enough. But others get no benefit.

    Cosentyx, which is taken by injection, works differently from TNF-blockers, Zashin explained. Both drugs block part of the immune system's inflammatory response, but they have different targets: Cosentyx inhibits a protein called IL-17, which tends to be elevated in people with spondylitis.

    So, Zashin said, that "unique mechanism of action" could offer an alternative to spondylitis patients who don't respond to standard therapy.

    Almost 3 million Americans have ankylosing spondylitis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is usually diagnosed in young people, before the age of 40.

    The exact cause is unknown, but spondylitis does involve abnormal immune system activity that triggers chronic inflammation in the spine. A few gene variants have been linked to an increased risk of the disease -- and it's thought that some mix of genes and environment is to blame, according to the Spondylitis Association of America.

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