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Roche’s RoActemra outperforms Humira in rheumatoid arthritis

More effective than Abbott/Eisai’s drug in head-to-head study

Roche RoActemra tocilizumab

Roche's rheumatoid arthritis drug RoActemra is more effective than Abbott/Eisai's Humira, according to the results of a head-to-head study scheduled for presentation at the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR) conference in Berlin.

The phase IV ADACTA study showed that adult rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with RoActemra (tocilizumab) - without other disease-modifying drugs - showed improved symptoms after 24 weeks compared to those who received Humira (adalimumab).

Biologic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis such as Humira and RoActemra are approved for use alongside other drugs such as methotrexate, but around a third of patients receive them off-label as monotherapy, generally because they cannot tolerate methotrexate's side effects.

RoActemra, a humanised interleukin-6 inhibitor, achieved a 3.3-point improvement on a commonly-used disease activity scale (DAS28), while Humira achieved a reduction of 1.8 points, according to Roche. 

Furthermore, 40 per cent of patients treated with Roche's drug achieved remission of symptoms, compared to 11 per cent of the Humira group, and RoActemra also did significantly better on American College of Rheumatology (ACR) symptom scores. 

The tolerability of the two drugs was fairly equal, said lead investigator Cem Gabay of University Hospitals of Geneva in Switzerland at a press conference ahead of the formal presentation of the data.

"This study clearly shows the benefits of tocilizumab over adalimumab on various measures of rheumatoid arthritis disease activity and is the first study of its kind to determine superiority between two approved rheumatoid arthritis drugs," said Gabay. 

Humira is a dominant force in the rheumatoid arthritis market, with annual sales in excess of $8bn that dwarf the roughly $700m brought in by RoActemra last year. Roche's drug is growing quickly, but it still has narrower indications than its rival.

The Swiss pharma company is carrying out additional clinical studies to extend the drug's labelling to include first-line use in rheumatoid arthritis, treatment at an earlier stage of the disease, and other conditions such as systemic sclerosis. 

It is also developing a new subcutaneous formulation of RoActemra with more patient-friendly dosing.

7th June 2012

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