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In 2017, tocilizumab (Actemra), a biologic drug that inhibits interleukin-6 (IL-6), was FDA-approved for giant cell arteritis — an inflammation of the lining of the arteries. At the time there was sufficient research showing that tocilizumab was better than prednisone (a steroid) for helping many patients reach remission in GCA. Yet it was unclear whether those who had reached remission should stop taking the drug or if they needed to continue using it.

Now a new study, presented at the 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Professionals Annual Meeting in Atlanta, offers good news: A sizeable group of those who reached remission with tocilizumab were still in remission two years after stopping the drug.

The new study was an extension of an earlier 52-week study that led to tocilizumab’s FDA approval for giant cell arteritis. The drug is also approved for rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and severe cytokine release syndrome.

More than 200 patients who had reached remission by using tocilizumab either once a week or every other week entered the post-marketing arm and were instructed to stop using the drug. According to their findings, 47 percent of those who had been previously taking tocilizumab weekly and 36 percent of those who had previously been taking it every other week remained in remission two years later.

Those who did experience flares were restarted on tocilizumab and/or given steroids. Those who resumed using tocilizumab (with or without a steroid) were once again able to reach remission.

“Giant cell arteritis requires ongoing management, but it does not necessarily require continuous treatment,” lead author John H. Stone, MD, MPH, told the ACR/ARP Daily News. “Patients should be started on tocilizumab as soon as they are diagnosed. The goal should be to get them off steroids as quickly as possible and maintain their response with tocilizumab.”

You Can Participate in Arthritis Research Too

If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.

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