Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and inflammation. It can lead to substantial loss of mobility and decreased quality of life for the 1.3 million Americans suffering from the condition. RA results when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the membranes that line the joints. Benaroya Research Institute has recently been a part of clinical trials for two RA drugs that provide hope for many patients that have not found relief with previously approved treatment options.

Both drugs investigated in these clinical trials function by inhibiting Janus kinase (JAK) enzymes, which in turn modulate the immune system response. The idea is that through their impact on the immune system pathway, the progression of RA will be halted and symptoms of the disease will
be alleviated.

One BRI clinical trial contributed to the November 2012 FDA approval of Xeljanz® (tofacitinib) for use in patients who have had inadequate responses to one or more disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Xeljanz® is the first new oral treatment for RA in over a decade. A second trial is evaluating a second oral JAK inhibitor, baricitninib, for use in RA.

“It is exciting to see new RA therapies like these which may help some patients who haven’t been helped by existing RA treatments,” says Stanford Peng, MD, PhD, the principal investigator for these studies at BRI.

There are currently many treatment options for RA that generally take care of up to 70 percent or more of symptoms, but they work for only about 30 percent of patients. “The real problem is finding treatments that will resolve the remaining symptoms and work well for the other majority of patients,” notes Dr. Peng. “This is why it is so important that new therapies and therapy combinations continue to be evaluated through clinical research studies.”

Did you know?

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and allied diseases. There are several diseases where joint pain is primary and is considered the main feature. Generally when a person has “arthritis” it means that they have one of these diseases:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout and pseudo-gout
  • Septic arthritis
  • Spondyloarthritis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Still’s disease

Clinical Research Studies

BRI offers clinical research studies for a variety of rheumatic diseases to evaluate novel therapies in these diseases. Studies may be available in the following areas: axial spondyloarthritis, lupus, relapsing polychondritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Contact the Rheumatic Diseases Clinical Research Program at 206-342-6524.


Healthy volunteers and people with rheumatic diseases can help scientists move rheumatic disease research forward by donating a blood sample and answering some questions about personal and family health history. Contact 206-287-5624 or email biorepository@BenaroyaResearch.org.

For more information on rheumatic diseases and clinical trials, visit BenaroyaResearch.org.

Originally Published in BRING IT ON Newsletter - Fall 2013

Fighting Diseases

November 1, 2013

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