More treatment options for arthritis sufferers, as NICE greenlights new medications

Arthritis is a common condition in the elderly, which as well as being uncomfortable can have a negative impact on independence. Now, some 25,000 people who have found conventional therapies have not helped are being offered fresh hope, as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is greenlighting a number of new treatments.

The final draft of the new recommendations has been published, outlining which drugs for moderate rheumatoid arthritis are being added to the repertoire on offer. The advice suggests adalimumab, etanercept and infliximab can be taken with methotrexate and the first two can also be prescribed on their own.

In the past, biological treatments have only been available on the NHS to those with severe rheumatoid arthritis. Advances in biosimilar medicines, which means drugs have been developed that are almost the same as the biological ones, but they’re cheaper and can be more widely prescribed.

Meindert Boysen, deputy chief executive and director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE, said: “I am delighted that we are able to recommend additional treatment options for people with moderate rheumatoid arthritis whose disease hasn’t responded to conventional treatments.

“These recommendations come after a pragmatic review of existing guidance in response to the availability of biosimilars in the NHS. We are pleased that the introduction of biosimilars has lowered overall costs of treatment, allowing our independent committee to recommend biological treatment for more people with rheumatoid arthritis so they can enjoy a better quality of life.”

Evidence from clinical trials shows the benefits of taking these medications to people with moderate symptoms are similar to those with more severe versions of the disease. It is recommended that patients exhaust the conventional treatment options first before taking the newly greenlit medications, however.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the synovial joints, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. As these joints are found in the hands and feet this can have a significant impact on mobility and carrying out simple everyday tasks. While there’s no cure for the condition, medication can help to minimise the symptoms.

Around 400,000 people have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the UK and of these, 150,000 have a moderate version of the condition. Some 15 per cent of moderate sufferers have not responded to conventional therapies, so these new recommendations from NICE are set to help them. While rheumatoid arthritis can set in at any age, most cases begin between 40 and 70 years of age.