NICE approves first new drug for Giant Cell Arteritis
NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, has approved the use of Tocilizumab for cases of Giant Cell Arteritis. There has not been a new drug for this disease since steroids were first used 70 years ago. Thousands of patients have had no option up to now but to take high doses of steroids for several years.
Giant Cell Arteritis is an inflammatory illness that strikes people over 50. It causes the walls of arteries to become so inflamed that the blood supply to the head and other parts of the body can become completely blocked. In about 25% of cases, when GCA isn’t caught in time, the patient loses some or all of their vision irreversibly because of lack of blood supply to the optic nerve. High doses of steroids can treat the inflammation and get the blood flowing again. But patients find themselves on steroids for years on end, and many either relapse or find that the steroid treatment doesn’t work for them.
Unlike other inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, research has not come up with effective alternatives to steroids in GCA. Until now.
Tocilizumab, patented by Roche as ‘Actemra’ is one of a new generation of ‘biologic’ drugs that treat the inflammation causing the disease rather than just the symptoms, as steroids do. Trials have shown that patients taking this drug end up taking a much lower overall dose of steroids, thereby avoiding relapses and the dangers of high doses of steroids over long periods. These dangers include diabetes and osteoporosis.