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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
Hospital gives arthritis drug
Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital
The hospital believes it could treat 20 patients with the new drug
A new drug designed to treat people with rheumatoid arthritis is being used at a Devon hospital.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in joints, making them become tender, stiff, swollen and, in severe cases, leading to joint damage.

About one in 100 people develop the condition, although it affects three times as many woman as men.

The drug, Humira, which is being used at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (RDE), focuses on the causes of the inflammation in the body and is believed to improve patients' quality of life.

We think we can justify spending 10,000 a year on most patients
Dr Richard Haigh
Doctors at the RDE say the top 5% of the worst affected patients could benefit from the new drug.

It suppresses a chemical in the body which affects inflammation and offers the patient the possibility of reduced stiffness and less pain.

But the chemical the drugs affects can help prevent other illnesses such cancer and tuberculosis.

Suppressing that chemical, as Humira does, lays the body open to infection.

However, doctors in Exeter say it has already greatly reduced the worst symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment costs about 10,000 per patient a year.

The RDE believes it could treat around 20 patients who suffer worst from the disease.

Dr Richard Haigh said: "Overall, we've calculated the costs of rheumatoid arthritis as being 800m and 1bn per year and many working days are lost through the condition.

"We think we can justify spending 10,000 a year on most patients, and not just through reducing patients' stiffness, disability and avoiding joint replacement in the future."

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