CLEVELAND -- Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks its own joints and tissues.
There is no cure but there are medications to treat it, however, most just treat the pain.
"Some drugs are aimed just to treat the signs and symptoms and some actually change the progression of the disease," says Dr. Elaine Husni, of Cleveland Clinic.
Falling into the latter category is a new experimental drug from Pfizer called Tofacitinib.
Other disease-altering drugs on the market must be injected, but this drug is taken in pill form.
Doctors say it's important that patients have multiple drug options.
"There are a subset that are either not responding fully, or actually not responding at all. And that is the reason we have new drugs coming out," Dr. Husni says.
In two new large clinical trials, Tofacitinib was found to be effective and improved physical function in RA patients. It's also in a totally different class of drugs than pain medication like Vioxx, which is now off the market because of its link to severe heart problems.
So far, doctors say the most common side effects of Tofacitinib are headache and respiratory infections.
"Addressing the longer term issues and experience with the clinician are still going to have to occur before we understand the long-term side effect profile of this drug," Dr. Husni says.
Advisors to the food and drug administration recommended approval of the drug earlier this year but the final decision is expected sometime this month.