Roche and the Department of Health have formed a ground-breaking pact to assess whether a veteran arthritis biologic can be repositioned as an effective treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension.

The partnership - between the Swiss drug giant and the DH’s research arm the National Institute for Health Research - plans to launch a trial to evaluate whether Roche’s tocilizumab - marketed in Europe as RoActemra for arthritis - can slow down the effects of the PAH, in the hope of offering patients the first treatment that does so.

PAH is a progressive disease caused by the narrowing or tightening of the pulmonary arteries around the heart, causing symptoms such as breathlessness, fatigue, weakness and angina. While options are available to address these symptoms there is currently no treatment that slows progression or cures the disease, and fewer than 40% of patients live beyond five years of diagnosis.

The two-year study, which will involve around 50 patients, will be led by the Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and is hosted by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. The NIHR will contribute funding and researchers, while Roche will also fund of the cost. 

The move falls under the NIHR’s Rare Disease Collaboration, set up in 2013 and supported by a £20 million investment to accelerate research into rare diseases.

Fruitful partnership

Madhi Farhan, Roche’s Head of the Office of I2O Innovation, said working with the NIHR and its Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) “has been invaluable to ensure rapid connections and fruitful partnership with the UK's leading experts in translational research of PAH”.

“Being able to look at the in-depth science of how one of our current treatments could be applied to a real unmet medical need is what attracted us to carry out this work in the UK. We hope this research will soon lead to benefit for patients with this debilitating disease.”

Also commenting on the partnership, Mark Samuels, NOCRI managing director, said: “This innovative and exciting trial of an available biological drug is further evidence for the success of the NIHR in collaborating with industry on the development of groundbreaking therapies.”