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atients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis who take Wyeth and Amgen’s blockbuster Enbrel are more likely to keep working for longer, according to fresh data.

The latest findings are from an analysis of the COMET study and are published in the latest issue of Rheumatology. The results show that active early RA patients on Enbrel (etanercept) in combination with methotrexate are nearly three times less likely to stop working and the study also revealed that work absenteeism was reduced by almost 50% in the combination group.

Specifically, during the COMET study, work absenteeism was recorded over a year amongst 205 patients and the number of missed workdays in the group receiving combination treatment of Enbrel and MTX was 14.2 days compared to 31.9 days on MTX monotherapy. The Enbrel combination group missed up to 37 fewer days than the MTX patients and 24% of the latter had to stop work at least once during the year, compared to 8.6% for patients on the combo.

Aslam Anis of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, and lead author of the paper, noted that keeping a person “gainfully employed represents a benefit to society above and beyond the clinical benefits of treatment”. He added that the data “underscore the importance of early and aggressive treatment of RA”.

Wyeth noted that RA affects 2.9 million people across Europe and he economic impact of the disease is significant, with an estimated 45 billion euros spent on it in Europe each year. Of this, 32% is likely due to work disability and decrease in work productivity, the firm claims.

Previously published data from the COMET trial showed that early treatment of RA can halt the joint damage seen as the disease progresses. 80% of patients in the ENBREL/MTX group experienced no further joint damage, 50% experienced a sustained reduction in disease activity (as measured by the number of swollen joints) and 55% achieved normal physical functioning.