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Biologics for Rheumatoid Arthritis: No Cure-all

Biologic Therapies Ease but Don't Eliminate RA Symptoms, Study Says
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 1, 2009 -- Biologic therapies often prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis do help improve symptoms but don't eliminate them, according to a new study.

However, patients who remain on subcutaneous biologic therapies -- medications injected under the skin -- have fewer symptoms than those who discontinue the drugs, says study author Boxiong Tang, MD, director of health economics and clinical outcomes research for Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc., in Horsham, Pa., a manufacturer of biologic therapies.

Tang presented his study looking at how the biologic medications improved quality of life, functioning, and work productivity this week in San Diego at the American Occupational Health Conference sponsored by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Biologics for RA: Background

"Rheumatoid arthritis is a leading cause of disability," Tang tells WebMD. The chronic disease is marked by inflammation of the lining of the joints, which can lead to joint damage and chronic pain. "Patients who suffer from the disease have a reduced quality of life," Tang says. Their work productivity can decline and their daily functioning can be difficult because of the pain.

RA affects about 1.3 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Biologics, also called biologic response modifiers, are considered an important advance in RA treatment in the past decade. The medicines are given by injection or intravenous infusion. Among the options are Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Kineret, Rituxan, Orencia, and the newest, Simponi -- approved in April and made by Centocor.

Biologics for RA: Study Details

Tang's goal in looking at the patients who were taking subcutaneous biologics, he says, is to see how the newer drugs are working out.

Tang and his colleagues extracted data from the National Health and Wellness Survey, a database created by Consumer Health Sciences, a company that markets the information to pharmaceutical and life science companies.

The RA Patient Survey included 2,048 patients, but just 362 were prescribed subcutaneous biologic therapy. Of the 362, 214 RA patients continued on the treatments and the other 148 had stopped them. Nearly 78% of the patients were women and the average age was 50.

Tang's team evaluated signs and symptoms such as morning stiffness, fatigue, and joint pain, as well as quality of life by using a common scale to assess mental and physical component scores. They compared current users' symptoms and quality of life with those who had stopped the drugs.

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