Medical Breakthrough: New Drug Helps Arthritis

Monday, September 20th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Two and a half million Americans, including hockey great Wayne Gretzky, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Many of them find some relief among the dozens of drugs currently on the market. But some patients don't. A new experimental drug that could be the breakthrough those patients need for relief.

56-year-old Claudette Jackson is not out to win any races. A few miles on the treadmill is victory enough. Five years ago, Jackson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, painful inflammation and swelling of the joints. "At my worst, I couldn't get out of bed," remembered Jackson. "I had to kind of roll myself out of bed and throw myself on the floor, and then kind of slowly get up because I couldn't put any pressure on any of my joints."

It's a disease where the body literally attacks itself. It has no known cause. The effects, though, are far too familiar. "Like I was 90-years-old," said Jackson. "I really had aches all over." Rheumatologist Dr. Daniel Furst put her in a study for the experimental drug Remicade. It blocks development of a protein which causes inflammation. Just over half of the 400 patients in the study improved significantly. "A 70 per cent improvement in someone's rheumatoid arthritis makes them feel nearly normal," said Furst. "So it's a huge change in how we can treat patients."

Jackson noticed changes right away and the improvement seems to last. "So far, if we do this correctly, it appears that we don't lose the response over time, which is really very encouraging," she said. Once a month, Jackson goes in for her two-hour treatment. "Sometimes I don't even think I have arthritis I feel so good," she said. Which means no excuses to avoid the gym.

Remicade is headed to the Food and drug administration for testing and it could be available by the end of the year. There are no known side effects. But it does have a number of drawbacks, including the price. It runs between $15,000 and $20,000 a year. Talk to your doctor to find out if Remicade is for you.