A breakthrough drug costing less than £1 a day could delay the progression of osteoarthritis, a study has shown.
Strontium ranelate, known as Protelos on the market, is a powder that is mixed with water to create a lemon-flavoured drink and is used to treat people with osteoporosis, a brittle bone disease.
Osteoarthritis affects approximately 8.5 million people in the United Kingdom and is a painful and debilitating condition that wears down joints.
Results of the trial show that the drug has been found to slow the progression of osteoarthritis. The Phase III trial involved 1,683 arthritis patients – mostly female – with an average age of 63. Some patients were treated with daily doses of 1g or 2g of Protelos, while others received a placebo.
The results, presented in Bordeaux at the European Congress on Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ECCEO), showed that the daily 2g dose slowed progression so much so that there appeared to be only a year’s worth of deterioration of knee cartilage after three years. It also reduced pain significantly and improved day-to-day mobility.
Before now, the only available non-surgical treatment was pain management and physiotherapy.
Each year in England and Wales, around 140,000 knee and hip replacements are carried out on the NHS, costing in excess of £1 billion. The results of the study suggest that by taking Protelos, many of these surgeries could be avoided or at least delayed, saving the taxpayer millions annually.
Professor Cyrus Cooper, the lead author of the study from Southampton and Oxford universities, said the drug also reduced the frequency of rapid progression of the condition by almost 50%. Patients with rapid progression arthritis are five times more likely to need joint replacement surgery.
Chief Executive of the Arthritis Care charity – Judith Brodie – said that while it is still early days as this is the first study to show benefit of Protelos, any treatment that can help people live longer, active lives, hold back the condition and delay surgeries is good news for the millions of people living with the debilitating disease in the United Kingdom.
Professor Alan Silman of Arthritis Research UK hailed the results as an “exciting development”. He went on to say that while it doesn’t reverse the condition and the extent of the findings are still unclear, it appears to have a beneficial effect on pain and slows down the progression.
The cost of Protelos is just £27 per month, or 90p per day and it is understood that the French manufacturer, Servier, is applying for an altered use license from European regulators to have the drug relicensed for the treatment of osteoarthritis.