New drug in testing to help people with rheumatoid arthritis

It could be the miracle millions of people who suffer through the aches and pains of arthritis have been waiting and praying for.

The news is just out in the last hour. A new drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis is showing promise in large clinical trials.

The best news is it's a medication that does more than mask pain, it attacks the disease directly.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks its own joints and tissues.

There's no cure, but there are medications. Often though, they simply treat the pain.

"Some drugs are aimed just to treat the signs and symptoms and some actually change the progression of the disease," says Dr. Elaine Husni of the Cleveland Clinic.

Falling into the latter category is a new, experimental drug from Pfizer called Tofacitinib. Other disease-altering drugs on the market must be injected. This drug is taken in pill form.

Doctors say it's important for arthritis patients to have multiple drug options.

"There are a subset that are either not responding fully, or actually not responding at all,” says Dr. Husni. “And that is the reason we have new drugs coming out."

In two new large clinical trials, Tofacitinib was found to be effective and improved physical function in RA patients.

It's also in a totally different class of drugs than pain medications like Vioxx, which is now off the market because of its link to severe heart problems.

So far, doctors say the most common side effects of Tofacitinib have been headache and upper respiratory infections.

"Addressing the longer term issues and experience with the clinician are still going to have to occur before we understand the long-term side effect profile of this drug," says Dr. Husni.

Advisors to the Food and Drug Administration recommended approval of the drug earlier this year. A final decision is expected sometime this month.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women and often starts in middle age.

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