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Drug licensed for children with arthritis

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Children in the UK afflicted by a painful and debilitating form of juvenile arthritis can now receive a new drug that may help them live normal lives.

Tocilizumab, licensed as a specific treatment for polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (pJIA), has been shown to improve symptoms by 70% in nearly two-thirds of cases.

The condition, which affects more than 1,000 children in the UK, can make simple activities such as walking and playing with friends both painful and difficult.

A clinical trial showed that tocilizumab, marketed as RoActemra, significantly reduces flares, occasions when symptoms temporarily intensify.

The drug was already licensed for another type of arthritis affecting children called systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA).

Children with pJIA have the worst prognosis, with up to 40% requiring early joint replacement.

Judi Rhys, chief executive of the charity Arthritis Care, said: “The licensing of RoActemra for pJIA is fantastic news for the children affected by this incurable condition, as it offers hope for the future and the potential to enjoy their childhood.

“We know, through our work on the Arthritis Care Young People’s Project in supporting families with children with arthritis, that a diagnosis of pJIA can be devastating for a child and their family. It impacts every aspect of a child’s life from schooling, to socialising and everything in between.”

The treatment is indicated for active pJIA in children aged two and older who have failed to respond to previous therapy with the drug methotrexate (MTX). It can be given on its own or in combination with MTX.

Tocilizumab targets an immune system signalling molecule called interleukin-6 (IL-6) that plays a key role in rheumatoid arthritis.

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