Patients with rheumatoid arthritis in the UK will now be able to receive treatment with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s new drug Orencia if they have failed to respond to other therapies.

Orencia (abatacept) is the first in a class of so-called T cell co-stimulation modulators that alter the way in which the body responds to inflammation, a key factor in RA. Specifically, the drug has been cleared for use in combination with methotrexate for moderate-to-severe active RA in adults who have had an insufficient response or intolerance to other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, which, a company spokesperson for B-MS told PharmaTimes UK News, affects 37% of patients.

The drug’s efficacy and safety profile have been studied in a clinical trial program including more than 1,995 patients, which showed that, in combination with methotrexate, Orencia induced significant and sustained improvement in the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including a clinically meaningful improvement in physical function.

A ‘crucial’ step forward

“Despite significant advances in treatment, there are many patients with rheumatoid arthritis whose disease is not adequately controlled by existing treatments,” said Professor Paul Emery, clinical director of rheumatology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust. “The availability of Orencia is a crucial step forward in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. We have seen sustained clinical benefits with Orencia, including reduced joint damage and less pain, which lead to significant improvements in people’s quality of life,” he added.

The NHS list price for Orencia is £252 per 250mg vial. The cost of therapy varies depending on a patient’s body weight, but the spokesperson told PharmaTimes UK News that the annual cost is similar to that of anti-tumour necrosis factor maintenance therapies, the first line of treatment.

She went on to say that the drug is currently undergoing a cost-effectiveness review at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Effectiveness, the results of which are expected in a couple of months.

The global market for RA is sizeable, and the condition affects around 387,000 people in the UK alone, three out of four of whom are women. The costs of inadequately controlled rheumatoid arthritis, which include lost productivity and earnings of patients and caregivers, are a substantial burden, the groups points out, so any new effective therapy could make significant impact.