Rheumatoid Arthritis NEW Treatment

Rheumatoid Arthritis NEW Treatment

Giant treatment leap halting disease for RA sufferers

Up to 60,000 Australians crippled with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) could benefit from today's launch of a revolutionary treatment designed to halt progression of this debilitating disease.

Remicade (infliximab) - a new biological agent that blocks a naturally-occurring protein (tumour necrosis factor alpha or TNF-alpha) that causes inflammation of the joints - is now available for the treatment of RA. The medicine is the culmination of 20 years of intensive medical research, beginning in Australia.

According to Associate Professor Geoff McColl, Consultant Rheumatologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital, Remicade represents a genuine breakthrough in the treatment of RA.

"It is the most important advance in the last 20 years," he said.

"With Remicade, we have a treatment that significantly reduces the joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis and returns sufferers to a more normal, daily routine. These are our main treatment goals in this insidious disease and at present, those with severe disease are most likely to benefit from this medication."

In February, 2002, Remicade made history by becoming the first treatment ever to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for improving physical function in people with RA - a previously unattainable goal for sufferers. It has since proven effective in treating those considered unresponsive to existing medicines.

Severe sufferer, Ms Jacqui Thomas, 27, who has lived with RA for the past 14 years, says this new treatment has made a dramatic improvement to her quality of life.

"Before taking Remicade, even the simplest of tasks, such as brushing my hair and cleaning my teeth, were difficult, and often impossible without help. Now that I'm on Remicade, my life is so much easier and I can do so much more. "

"I've gone from literally having to crawl to the bathroom each morning and coping with constant, stabbing pain in my joints, to being pain-free and jumping out of bed each day full of energy with a new enthusiasm for life," she said.

"Remicade has helped me regain life."

RA is a progressive and painful inflammatory disease of the joints affecting up to 60,000 Australians. The disease, which is particularly common among women, affects people usually between the age of 25 to 50. Symptoms can include swollen joints, pain and stiffness, tiredness, weight loss and anaemia.

The disease is associated with a significant shortening of lifespan and those with a family history of the disease are at greater risk. It is a major health reason for premature workplace resignation and its long-term nature is being linked to depression and other forms of dysfunction.

Most sufferers are of working age, heightening the socio-economic impact of the disease. It is a growing health burden not only to sufferers, but their families, voluntary carers, the health system, the social welfare system, the labour market and economy in general.

Remicade is also approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for another autoimmune disorder - Crohn's disease.

Crohn's is a life-long, incurable, non-contagious, inflammatory bowel disease of no known origin that affects more than 10,000 Australians, most commonly between the age of 15 to 30. The disease can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus. Because not everyone responds to medication and complications can occur, sufferers are often forced to undergo multiple surgery, which for some, can result in a short bowel and / or a stoma (an abdominal bag to collect faeces) and constant pain.

Mrs Angela McAvoy, Managing Director of the Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association (ACCA) said Remicade offers people with Crohn's disease an opportunity to live a normal life.

"I've seen the lives of people with Crohn's who, after facing a very bleak outlook from failing to respond to medications currently available, are transformed by Remicade."

Treatment with Remicade should be under the supervision of an experienced physician and ongoing patient monitoring is required. Because people with RA and Crohn's vary in their response and tolerance to Remicade, treatment should be individualised. Remicade should not be used in those with existing infections, congestive heart failure or signs of nerve fibre damage.

Remicade is administered intravenously. The treatment is available in Australia through Schering-Plough Pty. Limited.

People seeking further information about Remicade should see their doctor. For more information about rheumatoid arthritis, call the Arthritis Foundation of Australia on 1800 011 041 or visit www.arthritisfoundation.com.au. For more information about Crohn's disease call the Australian Crohn's and Colitis Association on 1800 138 029 or visit www.acca.net.au.

June 4th, 2002

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