A new partnership between drug manufacturer Roche and NHS researchers has been established to discover whether a drug traditionally prescribed for people with arthritis can also benefit patients suffering from an incurable heart disease.
The collaboration between the drug company and the NHS National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the first of its kind and will be funded by the institute’s £20m rare diseases fund.
The two-year research programme will involve 50 patients and will be led by the Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The trial will consider whether tocilizumab, developed by Roche for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, can also slow down the effects of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) — a rare progressive disease in which the arteries become narrow, putting pressure on the heart. Symptoms of PAH, for which there is no cure, include breathlessness, fatigue, weakness and angina.
“This innovative and exciting trial of an available biological drug is further evidence for the success of the NIHR in collaborating with industry on the development of groundbreaking therapies,” says Mark Samuels, managing director of the NIHR office for clinical research infrastructure.
Madhi Farhan, Roche’s head of the Office of I2O Innovation, says working with the NIHR has provided Roche with “rapid connections” to experts in translational research of PAH. “Being able to look at the in-depth science of how one of our current treatments could be applied to a real unmet medical need is what attracted us to carry out this work in the UK,” says Farhan.
Announcing the partnership on 6 January 2015, health minister George Freeman said the initiative illustrated the government’s determination to offer patients faster access to innovative effective drugs.