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Cancer Drug Helps Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rituxan More Effective than Methotrexate, Study Shows
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 25, 2002 -- A new cancer drug might also be effective for rheumatoid arthritis.

Preliminary results of a study -- which tested the drug Rituxan -- were presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans this week.

Rituxan is used to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. The drug works by targeting cells in the immune system called B cells, which make antibodies that contribute to the disease process.

For the 24-week study, researchers recruited 161 people with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who were also taking methotrexate -- a mainstay of RA treatment. Patients were divided into four groups: those who took only methotrexate; those who took only Rituxan; those who took Rituxan and cyclophosphamide, another RA drug; and those who took Rituxan and methotrexate.

More people who took Rituxan -- either alone or in combination with one of the arthritis medications -- had significant improvement in their arthritis. Patients tolerated the drug well, researchers report. One person died from pneumonia after receiving Rituxan by itself for five months. However, the patient's doctor did not think the death was related to the drug.

"[Rituxan] has a great advantage in that benefits last for many months at a time," says study researcher Jonathan CW Edwards, MD, professor in connective tissue medicine at University College London, in a news release. "However, further studies to ensure a high level of safety are needed before the drug can be generally recommended." -->

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