Roche’s RoActemra drug helped to reduce symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis patients better than Abbott Laboratories’ blockbuster Humira when given as a single treatment, the Swiss drugmaker has announced according to Reuters.
Actemra was more effective than Humira in reducing tender and swollen joints and other measures of rheumatoid arthritis in patients who couldn’t take methotrexate, the usual initial treatment for the disease, the Basel, Switzerland-based drugmaker said.
The phase IV trial showed that after 24 weeks of treatment 65 percent of patients who received RoActemra experienced a 20 percent reduction in swollen and tender joints compared with 49 percent of those on Humira, Roche said.
These results are shocking to some, as Humira is one of the world’s top-selling medicines, garnering more than $8 billion a year. But is it a game-changer for the RA industry?
“Despite these strong efficacy results, it is difficult to assess whether these trial results can be successfully exploited to bring about a change in physicians’ prescription habits,” said Vontobel analyst Andrew Weiss, who forecasts peak sales for RoActemra of 2 billion dollars.
So in other words, he really can’t say if it will have any affect.
Karsten Jung, head of GPS Immunology at Roche, said the aim of the trial was to give comparative data to doctors to help them to decide in favour of RoActemra, also known as Actemra outside of Europe, when prescribing treatment.
“Among a treatment environment of nine different medicines, it is very difficult to make an individual treatment decision for the physician. They are looking for reasons why they should choose one over the other,” Jung told Reuters.
“This will make a strong case that this should set Actemra apart from other medications,” Jung said in a telephone interview.
Roche’s drug is approved in the United States and Europe for use in patients who are either intolerant to or have failed to respond to other medicines to treat inflammation.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually hits adults between 20 and 40 years of age, as the immune system attacks the joints to cause swelling, pain and damage that can lead to deformity and disability. It is more common in women than in men, and the disease afflicts about 1.3 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases have been one of the most lucrative areas for drugmakers, with more than $20 billion in annual sales.
Patients are usually treated with a combination of protein-based biologic therapies and methotrexate (MTX). About one third of all patients, however, are largely intolerant to MTX and take a single drug rather than a combination of drugs, Roche said.
Obviously Abbott believes their drug is still the premier choice, and state that the results may be biased.
“The study used the maximum Actemra dose and the minimum Humira dose allowed for monotherapy treatment, so results may be biased in favour of Actemra,” Abbott spokeswoman Raquel Powers said.
The results of the study of 326 patients was presented at the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) meeting in Berlin.