Harvard Health Letter

New pill better targets rheumatoid arthritis

It's the first oral therapy approved for RA in more than 15 years.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is much more common in women than men, and there is currently no cure or means of preventing the disease. However, in November 2012, the FDA approved a potent new treatment for people who have not had success with methotrexate (Rheumatrex), the standard initial therapy for RA symptoms. The new drug is tofacitinib (Xeljanz).

RA is an autoimmune disease: the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the joints, leading to the production of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. The joints become warm, red, and tender. Methotrexate, taken orally, is the first line of defense. Doctors also prescribe biologic therapies (Enbrel, Humira) that quiet certain inflammatory cytokines. These are injectable treatments.

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