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FDA approves Actemra to treat rare form of juvenile arthritis

Posted Apr 18 2011 12:00am

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved Actemra (tocilizumab), given alone or in combination with methotrexate, for the treatment of active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA) in children ages 2 years and older.

SJIA, or Still’s disease, is a rare, potentially life-threatening disorder in children that causes severe inflammation throughout the body. SJIA is distinguished from other forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) by the prominence of systemic and inflammatory features, including spiking fevers; rash; swelling and inflammation of lymph nodes, liver, and spleen; and high white blood cell and platelet counts. The prevalence of JIA is an estimated 1 to 2 per 1,000 children, and SJIA affects about 10 percent of all JIA patients.

Actemra is an interleukin-6 receptor blocker approved by the FDA on Jan. 8, 2010, for treatment of adults with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis who have had an inadequate response to other approved therapies.

“This new indication of Actemra provides the first approved therapy for children with this rare disease,” said Badrul Chowdhury, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Rheumatology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

An international, multicenter controlled trial demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of Actemra, in which 112 patients received either Actemra infusions or placebo infusions every two weeks. Study participants included patients with SJIA aged 2 to 17 years old who had inadequate response to or who were unable to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids.

Eighty-five percent of those receiving Actemra responded to treatment, compared with 24 percent of patients receiving placebo. Response was defined as at least 30 percent improvement in the American College of Rheumatology’s JIA efficacy variables, along with absence of fever in the preceding seven days. In the long-term, follow-up period of the trial there were three cases of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) among SJIA patients receiving Actemra. MAS is a potentially fatal complication of childhood systemic inflammatory disorders, thought to be caused by excessive activation and proliferation of certain immune cells.

Actemra carries a Boxed Warning for serious infections. Patients treated with Actemra who develop a serious infection should stop Actemra treatment until the infection is controlled. A Boxed Warning is a brief, concise summary of the information that is critical for a prescriber to be aware of, including any restriction on distribution or use, which is included in a black box at the beginning of the drug label.

Changes in certain laboratory test results such as liver tests, blood counts, and cholesterol are not uncommon with Actemra and should be monitored with regular blood tests. The most common side effects in trial participants with SJIA included upper respiratory tract infection, headache, sore throat, and diarrhea.

Actemra is marketed by San Francisco-based Genentech Inc., a subsidiary of the Roche Group.

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