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Novartis Found Symp. 2004;256:53-69; discussion 69-73, 106-11, 266-9.

Anti-TNFalpha therapy of rheumatoid arthritis: what can we learn about chronic disease?

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Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology Division, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1 Aspenlea Road, London W6 8LH, UK.


The importance of tumour necrosis factor (TNF)alpha in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was initially proposed on the basis of analysis of cytokine gene regulation at the local site of the disease, the synovium. This was then verified in animal models and established in an extensive series of clinical trials, culminating in now 250000 treated patients with either of two approved TNF inhibitors, antibody or fusion protein. The degree and magnitude of clinical benefit has enabled analyses of the mechanism by which anti-TNF benefits, and hence insights into important steps in the disease process. It was found that essentially all aspects of RA were ameliorated, and important mechanisms of benefit involved diminution of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines, adhesion molecules and chemokines, leading to reduced cell trafficking, reduced angiogenesis and most importantly halting of joint destruction. What of the problems? Safety is better than prior drugs, but there is a small increase in severe infections, smaller than might have been anticipated. Cost is the major drawback limiting greater use. In view of the central pathological processes down-regulated, and their role in many diseases, the early clinical success of anti-TNF in RA led to subsequent successful trials and registration in Crohn's disease and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and successful trials in ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The era of anti-cytokine therapeutics is just dawning.

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