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FRIDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- A drug that is currently prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis also may be beneficial for patients with a common form of kidney disease that is difficult to treat and often leads to kidney failure, according to a small new study.
Researchers said they also identified a way to help determine which patients would be most likely to benefit from the drug.
The condition, called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), causes scar tissue to form in the kidneys' filtering units. Most people affected by the disease are also obese or have high blood pressure or diabetes. Although steroids and certain drugs that suppress the immune system help some people with FSGS, these treatments have long-term side effects that may outweigh the drug's benefits, the researchers said.
"We identified abatacept as the first personalized, targeted treatment for kidney disease and specifically for FSGS, a devastating and largely untreatable disease," study senior author Dr. Peter Mundel, of the nephrology division at the Massachusetts General Hospital department of medicine, said in a hospital news release.
A team of researchers, led by scientists at Mass General, examined the effects of abatacept on five patients with FSGS. The investigators found that the drug, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat rheumatoid arthritis and sold under the brand name Orencia, prevented four of the patients from losing a transplanted kidney to the condition.
One of these patients remained in remission for three years following one dose of the drug. Another remained in remission for four years. The other two participants needed a second dose of the drug after a few weeks, after which time one of the patients went into remission for 10 months and the other for 12 months, according to the report.
The study also showed that another patient with a treatment-resistant form of the disease who was at high risk for kidney failure went into remission for the first time in more than a year after being treated with the drug. Although the patient still takes a monthly dose of the drug, the researchers said the patient has resumed normal daily activities and no longer needs high-dose steroids and drugs that suppress the immune system, which can increase the risk for kidney failure.
The study authors said more research is needed, but their findings suggest that Orencia shows promise as an effective treatment for certain forms of kidney disease.
The study was published online Nov. 8 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings also were scheduled to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nephrology in Atlanta.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
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SOURCE: Partners Health Care, news release, Nov. 8, 2013