The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved new delivery methods for methotrexate and tocilizumab (Actemra), a move that will provide more convenient and easier-to-take treatment options for patients with certain types of inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

In October 2013, the FDA approved a self-injectable version of tocilizumab (Actemra) for adults with moderate to severe RA who did not have enough relief with one or more disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate.

The same month, the agency approved a single-dose auto-injector form of methotrexate (Otrexup) for adults with active severe RA and children with active polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) who do not respond to or cannot tolerate first-line therapies, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  

Self-injected Actemra Reduces Clinic Trips

Actemra is a biologic drug that reduces RA-related inflammation by blocking interleukin-6 (IL-6), a protein that is overproduced in the joints of people who have the disease. It's been available by intravenous (IV) infusion since 2010. The approval of an easier-to-use, pre-filled Actemra syringe injection means patients can now take the medication at home. 

“Any time a drug is given by IV you need a nurse or someone qualified to do the needle stick and then watch the medicine go in. This means a trip to a clinic and the cost and inconvenience associated with it,” says Donald Miller, PharmD, professor and chair of the pharmacy practice department at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D.  

“It is more convenient to be able to auto-inject at home,” adds Ariel Teitel, MD, clinical associate professor in the department of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

The Actemra injection is given subcutaneously, which means the shot is given into a fatty layer just under the skin. It can be taken alone or in combination with methotrexate or other DMARDs. The pre-filled syringe should not be re-used.