A study has suggested that thousands of British children suffering from a painful and crippling disease could have their lives transformed by a drug which is currently reserved for adults.
In the UK, around 2,500 children under the age of 16 have systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) - also known as Still’s disease.
After 12 weeks of treatment with a drug that targets the immune system, the condition of children with the disorder improved by up to 90%, according to new research.
The antibody drug tocilizumab, marketed as RoActemra, is currently only licensed for adults with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis, but manufacturers Roche hope the drug will be approved for British children with systemic JIA within two years.
While the cause of systemic JIA - the worst form of JIA - is unclear, experts think it is an auto-immune condition, like adult rheumatoid arthritis.
Scientists will continue to monitor the children over the next five years to assess the long-term effects of treatment.
Results from the trial were presented at the European League Against Rheumatism (Eular) annual meeting in Rome.
Rheumatology expert Professor Patricia Woo, from Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London, who led one of the UK arms of the trial, said: “This is a major advance for these young people.”
Children with systemic JIA have high levels of an immune system cell-signalling molecule called IL-6 in their blood and joints.
Tocilizumab works by blocking the IL-6 biological pathway, stopping its signals from getting through.