Drug used to treat hand osteoarthritis found to be no better than placebo

20 February 2018 08:24

Young attractive female scientist holding a red transparent pill with futuristic scientific air interface with chemical formulas and research data in the foreground

Young attractive female scientist holding a red transparent pill with futuristic scientific air interface with chemical formulas and research data in the foreground

An off-label drug thought to be commonly prescribed by doctors to treat osteoarthritis of the hand is ineffective, researchers have revealed.

Hand osteoarthritis is estimated to affect nearly a third of people over the age of 70.

First-line treatments are often ineffective and some patients experience negative reactions.

Hydroxychloroquine has often been prescribed by doctors as an off-label alternative.

No benefit

A study led by the University of Leeds found no benefit in taking the off-label drug hydroxychloroquine in comparison to a placebo, however.

Prescription drugs are licensed for certain conditions, but off-label use means doctors are using them to treat illnesses outside of that designated or authorised list. This is a somewhat common practise, according to the researchers.

The study involved 248 patients at 13 NHS hospitals in England. All of them had the condition for at least five years and had changes to the joints in their hands consistent with osteoarthritis.

The participants all reported moderate to severe pain on at least half of the days in the three months leading up to the commencement of the study.

The study found that patients reported an initial reduction in the severity of pain before the improvement plateaued. However, that change was seen in both the group receiving the medication and the group taking the placebo.

"Not an effective treatment"

Dr Sarah Kingsbury, who led the study, said: "There is some scientific basis as to why hydroxychloroquine could be an effective drug agent.

"It is known to target inflammation in the joints and is a recognised and licensed treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

"There is increasing evidence that inflammation is a factor in osteoarthritis. So doctors have used hydroxychloroquine off-label, in a way that it was not licensed for, to try and control symptoms and pain.

"But until now, there has not been a large-scale study into whether using hydroxychloroquine works. And our evidence shows that for most patients it is not an effective treatment."

The study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, was funded by Arthritis Research UK.

Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at the charity, said: "It is vital that we invest in research to improve the treatment options available to people with this condition. Anyone concerned about the effectiveness of their treatment should seek advice from their doctor."

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