London-based drug development group Modern BioSciences has linked arms with the University of Aberdeen to develop novel drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and tap into a global market worth $16 billion.

The groups have signed an exclusive global licensing agreement under which the company will develop candidates discovered by the University into novel, oral, disease-modifying drugs for RA, as well as for other inflammatory diseases and osteoporosis.

These compounds could potentially offer an alternative to the standard anti-TNF therapies currently used in the treatment of RA, which, although effective in controlling inflammation associated with the condition, are administered either intravenously or sub-cutaneously.

Modern Biosciences will stump up the cash for and manage the development programme through to proof-of-concept studies in man, and then plans to out-license the programme to the pharmaceutical industry, with revenues generated from the commercialisation of any programmes shared by the two groups.

The first lead compound is expected to be in clinical trials in RA patients within two years, which will assess several biomarkers indicating disease progression and should provide early proof-of-concept data, the company said.

True cost of RA

Meanwhile, new research unveiled last week has highlighted the true burden of RA on patients, showing that it not only causes physical symptoms of pain and joint damage, but also contributes to stress in relationships too.

The findings show that: 61% of RA sufferers say their sex life has been affected by the condition; 70% of those aged 25-34 feel that the disease has had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner; and 15% cite RA as a contributing factor in their divorce/separation.

"We need to make sure that patients have realistic treatment expectations and that they are not suffering from unnecessary discomfort…no one should be left in unnecessary pain and unable to cope with physical intimacy," said Dr Andrew Östör, Consultant Rheumatologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital Cambridge, in response to the findings.

And sex psychologist Susan Quilliam commented: “For people with RA the pain and fatigue caused by unmanaged disease can make intimacy seem impossible. This shouldn't be the case. It is vital that patients talk to their healthcare professionals about their concerns and make sure they communicate openly with their partner to keep their relationships strong."