Patients who do not respond to current rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatments may benefit from a new form of treatment that has been shown in a study to be effective against symptoms of the disease.

The RA-BEAM study is the first to demonstrate that the drug baricitinib is more effective in improving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis than the current standard treatment of injectable biologic anti-TNF medications. Baricitinib has been specifically developed as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

A common and potentially debilitating disease, rheumatoid arthritis typically affects multiple joints and causes pain, swelling and stiffness that can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.
There have been significant treatment advances in recent decades in the form of biologic drugs, which are large molecular weight proteins that block the activity of key molecules involved in causing inflammation.

However, biologic drugs need to be administered by injection or intravenously, which can be difficult and painful for many patients. By contrast, baricitinib is a low molecular weight drug that can be taken as an oral medication once a day.

Professor Peter C. Taylor from the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS), University of Oxford, lead investigator for the RA-BEAM clinical trial, said: 'Current biological injectable treatments ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and slow disease progression to protect joints from long-term damage, but can be painful to administer and do not work for all patients.

'Developing an oral treatment is a huge step forward to simplifying therapy. Early intervention is particularly important in slowing the progress of the disease and maintaining a normal lifestyle.'

Baricitinib is a drug developed by Eli Lilly and Company and Incyte Corporation that inhibits two enzymes that are known to play a key role in the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis (Jak1 and Jak 2).

The full paper, ‘Baricitinib versus Placebo or Adalimumab in Rheumatoid Arthritis’, can be read in The New England Journal of Medicine.