Tocilizumab is a laboratory-made antibody, which works by targeting a biological signalling pathway linked to inflammation and the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis, the crippling auto-immune disease which attacks the joints, is the biggest cause of disability in the UK.
The drug was already licensed for the treatment of adults. Tocilizumab is the first drug to be specifically licensed for systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA) which affects around 2,500 British youngsters.
The treatment of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis is similar to RA treatment. For SJI arthritis, Tocilizumab is combined with Methotrexate unless the latter is not tolerated. General safety and effectiveness is established for children of two years and older.
Until now sJIA has mostly been treated using anti-inflammatory painkillers and steroid drugs.
Symptoms of the disease include joint pain, fever, enlargement of internal organs and a distinctive salmon-coloured skin rash. Up to two-thirds of patients develop persistent and chronic arthritis, and half of these suffer significant disability.