Medical science gives AiArthritis patients as much as they can expect

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That’s why supporting the creation of new therapies that target unique needs — and identifying those therapies for patients at the right time — is instrumental to improving health outcomes.

Initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I learned in 2013 that I was actually living with another AiArthritis disease — non-radiographic Axial Spondyloarthritis. I remember severe pain and stiffness plaguing my lower back. I remember lying in bed feeling that if I moved even an inch my spine would shatter. There were times I was unable to walk.

Patients like me are fortunate to live in a moment of ultra-fast innovation that’s moving towards precision medicine. Right now, 55 experimental treatments for rheumatoid arthritis alone are in the works, in addition to over 300 medicines for other autoimmune diseases. It’s exciting to think that some will likely reach patients within the next few years and change their lives.

My treatment at the time simply wasn’t working the way I needed it to. But thanks to ongoing advancements in medical research, a newer drug would soon become available. Within just a couple months, my quality of life improved significantly.

Story Highlights

  • Onset of these diseases ranges from 20 to 40 years old in adults — and any age in children. Lack of awareness of this fact contributes to delayed diagnoses, which can then lead to irreversibly damaging treatment delays. Compounding matters, their presentation and progression varies from person to person, so there isn’t a uniform response to therapeutics.

  • I have experienced the lifechanging power of effective treatments for AiArthtritis firsthand.

Scientists have certainly made astounding progress since 1950, when cortisone was the answer to treating rheumatoid arthritis. 

The first major breakthrough in fighting AiArthritis diseases was a category of treatment known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, which alter the body’s immune system to reduce inflammation. 

Then, in the 1990s, sophisticated drugs — made with genetically-engineered proteins synthesized from living organisms — emerged. These novel therapeutic agents generated significant improvements for patients — for some, even remission. Yet continued progress in treating these conditions is far from guaranteed. From the initial idea to finished product, developing a new medicine is a risky enterprise — costing up to $3 billion according to Tufts University researchers. Only 12 percent of drugs that enter clinical trials ultimately garner approval from the FDA. Even then, 30 to 40 percent of AiArthritis patients will not respond well to them, in part, due to the complex and individualized nature of our diseases.

Our work remains incomplete until all patients have access to effective treatments. As the leader of an international patient-led AiArthritis organization, we continue to advocate for bolstered access globally with the recognition that innovation starts in the United States. It’s precisely because of our country’s research ecosystem that historic medical advances — from Covid-19 vaccines to advanced AiArthritis disease therapies — are possible.

In other countries, drug price controls have impeded medical research funding and, in turn, have limited medicine availability. Indeed, of all the new drugs released worldwide between 2011 and 2017, only two-thirds were available in the United Kingdom, and fewer than half were available in Canada, France, and Japan. By contrast, nearly 90 percent were available in the United States. For people living with AiArthritis diseases, waiting for an effective treatment to become available could prove permanently harming. While the expenses associated with revolutionary research may carry high risks, the investment can bear greater health improvements for all. 

Tiffany Westrich-Robertson is the CEO and Co-Founder of The International Foundation for Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis.

Elevating awareness of our diseases, and their unique challenges, is just one small step towards a better tomorrow for everyone. Ensuring policymakers understand the true importance of fostering innovation and access begins with education. It’s for this reason that our nonprofit established World Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis Day (#AiArthritisDay) in 2012, hosted annually.