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BMS launches next generation arthritis treatment Orencia

Published on 06/06/07 at 01:45pm

Bristol-Myers Squibb has launched its next generation rheumatoid arthritis treatment Orencia in the UK, offering patients a novel way of combating the debilitating autoimmune disease.

The drug is the first biologic BMS has discovered and developed in-house and enters a market dominated by three anti-TNF blockbusters - Wyeth's Enbrel, Schering-Plough and Centocor's Remicade and Abbott's Humira.

All three anti-TNF (tumour necrosis factor) treatments have successfully expanded their uses from RA to other autoimmune diseases  an approach BMS is also set to follow.

It is estimated that 30% of RA patients will either be intolerant to anti-TNF treatment or fail to respond to it and this group of patients will initially make up BMS target market for Orencia (abatacept).

The drug received European regulatory approval last month for use in combination with the standard treatment methotrexate after patients have failed other arthritis drugs including at least one anti-TNF.

Professor Paul Emery, clinical director of rheumatology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust said: "Despite significant advances in treatment, there are many patients with rheumatoid arthritis whose disease is not adequately controlled by existing treatments.

"The availability of Orencia is a crucial step forward in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis."

Until now the three anti-TNF drugs represented the cutting edge of treatment, by targeting a protein involved in the inflammation cascade that characterises rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Orencia is the first treatment for moderate to severe RA that targets the activation of T-cells, which are thought to be responsible for the initiating RA's cascade of symptoms.

Last year, Roche's cancer drug MabTherea, which targets a slightly later stage of the inflammation cascade, won a similar RA licence in Europe, though only for the severe stage of the disease.

Orencia may have an advantage of some of its rivals when it comes to the way it is given to patients.

Like MabThera (rituximab) and Remicade (infliximab), it is an infusion given in an IV drip, but unlike those drugs, which take two hours or more to administer, Orencia can be given in just 30 minutes. In contrast, Humira (adalimumab) and Enbrel (etanercept) are both given by injection, initially in hospital.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects 476,000 people in the UK and approximately 12,000 cases of the disease occur every year. It leads to progressive joint damage, which can cause severe pain and disability as joints lose their shape and alignment.

Managing director at BMS UK Frank Pasqualone said: "The availability of Orencia provides patients with rheumatoid arthritis with renewed hope in their fight against this destructive condition.

"Orencia is the latest example of Bristol-Myers Squibb delivering on our commitment to bring innovative medicines to patients with unmet medical needs and to living our mission to extend and enhance human life."

A clinical trial programme involving more than 2,600 patients backed Orencia's approval. In combination with methotrexate, it demonstrated significant and sustained improvement in the signs and symptoms of RA in patients for whom current available treatments were inadequate.

Orencia was launched in the US in February last year, making sales during 2006 of $89 million.

Following the example of companies like Abbott with Humira, BMS views Orcenia as a pipeline in a product and is conducting trials for it in lupus, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

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