Roche, Genentech and Biogen Idec’s monoclonal antibody, MabThera/Rituxan (rituximab), is highly effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, significantly improving patients’ symptoms, according to the results of the so-called Dancer study, presented yesterday.

The trial included 465 moderate-to-severe RA patients received two infusions of the active drug or placebo over a two-week period in combination with methotrexate. Data showed that MabThera provided relief to almost twice as many patients, versus placebo, with an even more profound difference was noted between the MabThera and placebo groups at the hard-to-achieve goals of 50% or 70% improvement in symptoms, which include painful, stiff and swollen joints. In addition, a single treatment course of just two doses of MabThera given two weeks apart provided patients with significant symptom relief.

These data are further backed up by the results of the ongoing, Phase III Reflex trial, in which patients with the most difficult-to-treat RA who had an inadequate response or were intolerant to prior treatment with one or more biologic therapies benefited from treatnment with MabThera [[07/04/05a]]. Full data from this trial will be presented at a medical meeting later in the year.

MabThera is a first-in-class monoclonal antibody that selectively targets B cells, which are believed to play a key role in the inflammatory cascade of RA – a series of reactions leading to the cartilage loss and bone erosion that is characteristic of the disease. MabThera, which is approved in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is one Roche’s key products, with first quarter sales rising 24% to almost 1 billion Swiss francs [[19/04/05b]].