Blood test hope for arthritis treatment

A SIMPLE blood test might lead to a "new era" of tailored therapy for rheumatoid arthritis, it was claimed yesterday.

Research has shown that patients with certain immune system antibodies are more likely to respond to an advanced form of treatment.

Some 80 per cent of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are believed to have one of the two antibodies. Trial results show they have a good chance of being helped by the "biologic" drug rituximab, also known as MabThera, which targets the immune system.

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Professor John Isaacs, from the University of Newcastle, who led the research, said: "This is an important breakthrough in the treatment of this chronic and debilitating condition, heralding the beginning of an exciting new era for patients, physicians and the entire RA community.

"Conventional practice is based on treating the patient population as a whole, leading to some patients cycling on ineffective treatments before achieving the optimum response.

"By identifying in advance which groups are most likely to respond to, or to have an enhanced response to, drugs like rituximab, we can ensure they are treated early enough to prevent irreversible joint damage and disability."

RA is a disabling disorder in which the immune system attacks the body's own joints. An estimated 690,000 people suffer from the disease in the UK, and 26,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

The research was presented yesterday at the British Society of Rheumatology annual meeting in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. It pooled data from two studies comparing patients who tested positive or negative for the antibodies.

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said this was "a huge step forward and will, hopefully, lead to improved response and quality of life for many patients".