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Improving treatment outcomes for patients with rheumatoid arthritis

More effective prescribing and improved outcomes for thousands of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has resulted from the work of researchers at The University of Manchester.

In 2001, Professor Deborah Symmons and Dr Kimme Hyrich set up a large national register of patients starting to take new 'biologic' (anti-tumour necrosis factor (anti-TNF)) drugs.

The 'biologics' were a major breakthrough for people living with RA - a chronic disabling condition affecting one in 100 adults in the UK. At the time of their introduction, however, it was not known how safe or effective they were.

To address this gap, the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register was set up and monitored by researchers at The University of Manchester.

Funded by The British Society for Rheumatology, our researchers recruited and followed over 22,000 patients receiving anti-TNF therapy, capturing key patient information.

The work led directly to refining the ways in which these new drugs would be used around the world.

It was identified that:

  • RA is better controlled when the patient takes the biologics, in addition to continuing their background standard therapy. This has now been incorporated into NICE prescribing guidelines.
  • there is a risk of infections, such as listeria and salmonella, in patients taking biologics. This previously unrecognised hazard from undercooked foods was highlighted in the patient information leaflet and there has been a dramatic fall in new cases of infection in people with RA;
  • there does not appear to be an increased risk of birth defects if women become pregnant while taking these drugs;
  • it is beneficial to switch between biologics if the first biologic taken by the patient was ineffective.

The Register continues to be an invaluable resource used by patients, physicians and pharmaceutical companies across the UK and internationally.

All Parliamentary Group on Medical Research Summer Reception


Dr Kimme Hyrich presented at A healthy future for UK medical research - the All Parliamentary Group on Medical Research Summer Reception on 16 June 2014.

This study was selected as one of 16 UK entries to be presented at 'A healthy future for UK medical research' - the All Parliamentary Group on Medical Research Summer Reception - on 16 June 2014.

Of the 16 winning entries, two were from The University of Manchester.

See the presentation poster: The BSR Biologists Register: Improving treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (PDF, 572 KB).

“The types of information we gather from these large patient studies... help doctors, nurses and, most importantly, patients make informed decisions about healthcare.”

Dr Kimme Hyrich / Reader in Rheumatic Disease Epidemiology