New Drug Reduces Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may soon have a new treatment option.

Abbvie has announced positive results from a Phase 3 clinical study of its investigational drug upadacitinib and said it would file for FDA approval later this year.

Patients taking daily doses of upadacitinib for 14 weeks showed significant improvements in physical function, quality of life, pain and morning joint stiffness when compared with patients taking methotrexate, a standard first line treatment for RA.

Patients using upadacitinib reported reductions in pain and morning stiffness and better physical function as early as two weeks after starting treatment.

The results were announced at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) in Chicago.


"Upadacitinib as a monotherapy showed significant improvements in rheumatoid arthritis patients' ability to perform daily activities and overall health-related quality of life," said Marek Honczarenko, MD, vice president of global immunology development at AbbVie. "These results show that the improvements in clinical symptoms are accompanied by improvement in outcomes important to patients. These results reinforce upadacitinib's therapeutic potential across diverse rheumatoid arthritis patient populations and its use as a monotherapy treatment option."

Upadacitinib belongs to a class of medication known as JAK inhibitors, which block enzymes that cause inflammation.  The drug is also being investigated as a treatment for psoriatic arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis and atopic dermatitis.

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing swelling, inflammation and bone erosion. Because RA is incurable, treatments focus on suppressing the immune system to reduce inflammation and slow progression of the disease.

Many RA patients do not respond to or cannot tolerate methotrexate, a drug that was first used in chemotherapy because of its ability to stop the growth and spread of tumors. Because it also acts as an immune system inhibitor, low doses of methotrexate became a first line therapy for rheumatoid arthritis in the 1950’s.

Until the late 1990s, one in three RA patients were permanently disabled within five years of disease onset. There has been significant improvement in RA treatment for many patients who receive biologic disease modifying drugs such as Enbrel and Humira. The cost of biologic drugs can be as much as $25,000 a year and many patients can’t afford them or have insurers unwilling to pay for them.

Amgen Biologic Drug Approved by FDA

By Pat Anson, Editor

A new biologic drug may soon be available for rheumatoid arthritis patients and others who suffer from autoimmune diseases – if they can afford it and if the drug clears a patent challenge.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Amgen’s Amjevita as a biosimilar to Humira for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and severe plaque psoriasis. 

“Approval of Amjevita is an exciting accomplishment as it marks a new chapter in Amgen’s story of being a leader in biotechnology. In addition, Amjevita holds the potential to offer patients with chronic inflammatory diseases an additional treatment option,” said Sean Harper, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen.

Amjevita is Amgen’s first approved biosimilar and the fourth to receive regulatory approval in the U.S.

“The biosimilar pathway is still a new frontier and one that we expect will enhance access to treatment for patients with serious medical conditions,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

A biosimilar is nearly identical to an already-approved biological drug and there is no clinically meaningful difference in terms of their safety, purity and potency. Unlike generic drugs, however, biosimilars are not considered interchangeable with their branded counterparts – and are not given the generic label.

Zarxio was the first biosimilar product approved by the FDA as a version of Neupogen. The second was Inflectra, a biosimilar to Remicade. Last month the FDA approved Erelzi as a biosimilar to Enbrel.

Biologic products are generally derived from a living organism and can come from many sources, including humans and animals. They help inhibit the joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks joint tissues, causing pain, inflammation and bone erosion.

Injectable biologic drugs often work well in controlling RA and other autoimmune diseases, but can lose their effectiveness over time. They are also notoriously expensive, with some of the newer drugs costing $20,000 annually. A study last year found that Medicare patients paid an average of $835 in out-of-pocket costs every month to obtain them.

Last year Humira generated sales of more than $8 billion for drug maker AbbVie. In anticipation of Amjevita being approved by the FDA, AbbVie filed a lawsuit against Amgen last month, alleging that Amjevita infringes on 61 of its patents for Humira.

Because of that pending court case, a spokesperson for Amgen told PNN the company would be unable to provide a launch date for Amjevita or a projected price for the drug.

The most serious side effects of Amjevita are infections and malignancies. The drug will have a "Boxed Warning" to alert healthcare providers and patients about an increased risk of serious infections leading to hospitalization or death. The warning also notes that lymphoma and other malignancies, some fatal, have been reported in children and adolescent patients treated with tumor necrosis factor blockers, including Humira (adalimumab) products.