Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness that causes inflammation of the joints and the tissue around them as well as inflammation of other organs in the body. The inflammation of the joints can be crippling and lead to deformity.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common rheumatic disease, affecting more than two million people in the United States. The disease is three times more common in women than in men. It afflicts people of all races equally. The disease can begin at any age, but most often starts after age forty and before sixty. In some families, multiple members can be affected, suggesting a genetic contribution to the disorder.
In September, 1998 the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved Arava (leflunomide) as a new treatment for active rheumatoid arthritis in adults. The drug does not cure rheumatoid arthritis but clinical trials have shown that it does provide relief for painful, swollen joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis and also seems to retard damage to joints.
MedicineNet has learned that 6 studies of Arava patient trials will be presented at the national meeting of arthritis experts (American College of Rheumatology) November 8-12 in San Diego, California. These studies support the use of Arava as a significant additional weapon against rheumatoid arthritis. Arava compared favorably with medicines currently used, including sulfasalazine and methotrexate.
According to the manufacturer, Hoechst Marion Roussel of Kansas City, MO, the effectiveness of Arava may be a result of its unique action to block a special enzyme (referred to as DHODH) that is involved in the autoimmune process that leads to rheumatoid arthritis.
Arava can cause serious side effects including hair loss, skin rash, diarrhea and liver damage. Patients will require monitoring of blood tests for liver enzymes while taking the drug. Arava is not recommended in patients with significant liver disease.
Because animal studies raised concerns that the drug can cause birth defects, Arava should never be used by pregnant women or women of childbearing age who are not using reliable contraception. The drug persists in the body for a long time and a drug elimination procedure is recommended for patients who want to become pregnant after taking ARAVA.
Arava is a tablet. The studies used 100mg tablets daily for the first three days, followed by 20mg daily thereafter.
MedicineNet expects this drug to be available on the market within the next 6 weeks. Long-term studies of the medication will be also expected.