A new study presented at the EULAR conference says that rituximab is capable of completely halting the progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in patients who show first signs of the disease.
The study on 755 patients found that when rituximab is used with methotrexate for a year, the signs of joint deterioration completely halted. Some 70% of patients treated with this regimen within six months of showing initial signs did not have any joint damage for over 122 months of therapy.
"The emphasis should be on the early stage of disease. When patients first develop the disease there is no joint damage and the aim is to prevent that happening. That's essentially what this combination is doing," leading rheumatologist Professor John Isaacs, of the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University told the BBC.
Rituximab is not yet approved for use in early RA and it will be up to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to decide if it must be used early. Currently the drug is recommended only if treatment by other arthritis drugs called TNF do not halt joint damage in RA.