Three new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis – Roche’s MabThera and Actemra, plus Bristol-Myers Squibb's Orencia – could bring about a new era in how the condition is treated, according to a new study.

A review of the three new drugs, published by The Lancet today, found that they can ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (characterised by pain, swelling, and destruction of joints, with resultant disability) by up to 50%. The study, conducted by Josef Smolen and colleagues at the Medical University of Vienna, did a comprehensive review of the drugs to analyse their effectiveness on their own or in conjunction with other treatments and the findings show that they all improved physical function and health status.

The study shows that MabThera (rituximab) reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms by more than 50% for more than a third of patients and Orencia (abatacept) combined with an existing methotrexate treatment reduced them by about half in 40% of patients. Combining Actemra (tocilizumab) with methotrexate reduced symptoms in a Phase II trial by 50% in more than 40% of the patients.

The researchers concluded that “the many patients who obtain insufficient responses to established and novel treatments indicate the need to search for further therapies and treatment principles to increase response rates and to achieve high frequencies of remission or even cure in rheumatoid arthritis. The prospects are here".

They noted that traditional treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, glucocorticoid steroids, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, have limited effectiveness, and even responses to newer medication such as tumour necrosis factor inhibitors may be restricted, so further advances and more treatment choices are therefore needed.