Roche and Chugai’s Actemra rapidly improves the symptoms of children with systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis and looks set to become an important treatment option, according to research presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington, DC.

In the Phase III trial reported in Washington, treatment with Actemra (tocilizumab) at a dose of 8mg/kg every other week, resulted in rapid and substantial improvement in children with systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis and was generally well tolerated over a period of up to 18 weeks. The long-term efficacy and tolerability of tocilizumab are currently being investigated in an extension study.

In a second study, tocilizumab demonstrated significant improvements in signs and symptoms in children with polyarticular (affecting five or more joints), or oligoarticular (affecting fewer than five joints) onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis and was generally well-tolerated.

“While these data are preliminary and require further confirmation, they do suggest that this therapy may offer another important treatment option for children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis,” said Shumpei Yokota, MD, Yokohama City University School of Medicine and an investigator in both studies.

“Tocilizumab is particularly promising for those children with severe systemic JIA who have failed available therapies.”

The new results will boost confidence at Roche. The company recently declared that it expects to become the biggest rheumatology company in the world by 2012.

Actemra is being globally co-developed by Chugai and Roche. The drug has one of the largest clinical development programmes within Roche with more than 4000 patients enrolled in Phase III clinical trials in 41 countries.

Actemra is already licensed in Japan for the treatment of Castleman's disease and in the same country a license submission was recently filed for the treatment of both adult rheumatoid arthritis and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Tocilizumab blocks the action of the inflammatory interleukin IL-6. About one child in every 1,000 develops some type of juvenile arthritis. Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis affects about 10% of children with arthritis and may cause inflammation of the internal organs as well as the joints.

by Ian Mason