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Pioneering drug tested that aims to prevent arthritis

A pioneering drug to be tested could bring hope to the millions of Britons who are likely to one day suffer from arthritis. The drug aims to prevent people from developing arthritis, unlike existing treatments that treat the debilitating disease once it has set in.

Led by researchers from England’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the study of the drug Abatacept will be the world’s largest ever trial investigating whether targeted immunotherapy can prevent rheumatoid arthritis in individuals considered to be at high risk of developing the disease. The NIHR Translational Research Partnership has brought together 31 of the country’s leading hospitals and universities to take part in the trial.

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “Early treatment and preventing the progression of chronic diseases is important for patients and for the use of NHS resources. The Government created Translational Research Partnerships to work in collaboration with the life sciences industry specifically to drive the development of new treatment options for people with debilitating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. I am therefore delighted that the NIHR is working with BMS on this important preventative study…"

Mark Samuels from the NIHR said: “This trial takes us a real step closer to being able to prevent arthritis. I’m delighted that the NIHR is leading such an exciting study. The NIHR is perfectly placed to lead such a big trial in experimental medicine. The study offers hope that this debilitating condition can be prevented.”   

Rheumatoid arthritis currently affects more than 500,000 people in the UK – causing great pain and, in some cases, disability. The cost to the NHS is £560m a year. It is estimated that there are approximately 20,000 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis in the UK every year.1  With the UK’s aging population, arthritis is set to become an increasing problem.

Abatacept, which is already licensed for treating patients with established rheumatoid arthritis, reduces the immune system's attack on normal tissues by interfering with the immune cells (called T lymphocytes) that contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers will now be testing the drug in a large experimental trial over the next two years – involving over two hundred people who are at high-risk of developing the disease. The participants will be patients who have joint pains but no joint swelling as well as evidence of an autoimmune response in their blood.

The APIPPRA (Arthritis Prevention In the Pre-clinical Phase of RA with Abatacept) study was conceived and is being led by Professor Andrew Cope from the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre at King’s College London, part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre in London.

Professor Cope said: “This is a very exciting study of a therapy that is a logical choice for the very earliest detectable phase of the disease process. This is an important first step towards curing this chronic, disabling disease that affects over half a million adults in the UK.”

Pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) is providing the drug and a £3m grant for the study.

The scale of the trial – combining experts from dozens of UK institutions – underscores the NIHR’s ethos of bringing together the best brains in the country to tackle the nation’s most pressing healthcare issues.

Notes to editors:

About rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common chronic inflammatory immune-mediated disease of joints. It affects over 500,000 people in the UK1, 2. If not adequately treated, the condition leads to destruction of synovial joints and significant disability. Rheumatoid arthritis is costly to patients and their families; one third of people with arthritis stop work within two years of onset, because of their disease3. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that affects approximately 0.8 percent of the UK population. It is a significant health burden for patients, who experience pain and reduced mobility, and costs the NHS an estimated £560 million per year4.

1. Scott, DL, Wolfe F, Huizinga TWJ.  Rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet 2010; 376; 1094-1108.
2. Hochberg MC, Spector TD. Epidemiology of rheumatoid arthritis: update. Baillieres Clin Rheumatol 1995; 9:619-632.
3. Wolfe F, and Hawley DJ. The longterm outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis: Work disability: a prospective 18 year study of 823 patients. J Rheumatol 1998; 25: 2108-2117.
4. Relatives of patients hold the key to better understanding the cause of rheumatoid arthritis - 25-06-2013.

About NIHR Translational Research Partnerships

NIHR Translational Research Partnerships bring together world-class investigators in the UK’s leading academic and NHS centres to support collaboration with the life sciences industry in early and exploratory development of new drugs and other interventions. Research centres that make up the Partnerships have been selected to work together based on their proven ability to deliver in experimental medicine and translational research. As members of a Partnership, each centre has committed to work with industry through a consistent point of contact provided by the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI).

There are currently two NIHR Translational Research Partnerships focusing on one of the following areas:

For further information, visit the NOCRI microsite  


The NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) helps public, charity and industry research funders work in partnership with NIHR infrastructure and to maximise the impact of the Department of Health’s £0.5b/year investment in clinical research infrastructure. Equally, it ensures that NIHR-supported Centres, Units, Facilities and Networks can work together to help drive the flow of innovative research for patient benefit.

NOCRI supports research partners by:

  • Research signposting - help with navigating the clinical research environment and finding expert researchers and world class facilities and technologies.
  • Research collaboration management - support for the development of collaborative research partnerships.

For further information, visit the NOCRI microsite 

About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world.

For further information, visit the NIHR website.

About Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb is a global biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases. For more information visit the Bristol-Myers Squibb website.

About Abatacept

Abatacept (OrenciaTM) is a recombinant fusion protein consisting of the extracellular domain of human CTLA4 and a fragment of the Fc domain of human IgG1 that has been modified to prevent complement fixation and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. Abatacept was developed and is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and is licensed globally as a treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

About the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London

The NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre focuses on translational research through four ‘research clusters’: experimental medicine and therapeutics; biomarkers, co-diagnostics and imaging; population sciences; the school of translational and experimental medicine. Research within these clusters is based around eight research themes: cancer; cardiovascular disease; cutaneous medicine; environmental and respiratory health; imaging and bio-engineering; infection & immunity; translational genetics; and transplantation. Our aim is to take advances in basic medical research out of the laboratory and into the clinical setting to benefit patients at the earliest opportunity. Access to the uniquely diverse patient population of London and the south east enables us to drive forward research into a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. For more information, visit the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre website

King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, a pioneering collaboration that brings together one of the world’s leading research-led universities and three of London’s most successful NHS Foundation Trusts. For more information, visit the King's Health Partners website

For further information please contact:

Savannah Lahtinen
Communications Officer
NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI)
146B, Skipton House
80 London Road
London SE1 6LH
Mobile: +44 7408 852675
Twitter: @NIHR_NOCRI