Could a new blood test improve the lives of people with rheumatoid arthritis?

Methotrexate is used for the treatment of several long-term inflammatory conditions and is the most commonly prescribed drug for the 400,000 people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in the UK. However, this weekly treatment can have significant side effects, meaning that many people do not take their medication as prescribed. In fact, around 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis do not take their methotrexate medication as directed, putting them at risk of their condition worsening.

Many people who do not respond to methotrexate will go on to start more expensive biological therapies. However, in some cases this lack of response can be simply explained by non-adherence. Currently, being able to identify non-adherent patients is a challenge for healthcare professionals, as self-reported measures are not a reliable way of identifying whether a patient is taking their medication.

Manchester based researchers at our Centre for Genetics and Genomics Versus Arthritis and Centre for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis have been looking to tackle this issue. Here, Dr James Bluett and his team have successfully developed a new blood test that is able to measure, with 95% sensitivity, whether a patient has taken their methotrexate medication in the preceding seven days. Crucially, this could help to improve adherence by helping doctors start honest and supportive conversations with patients around the difficulties they may be experiencing with their medication, and how to resolve them.

This blood test now requires testing in a clinical trial in order to see whether adherence to methotrexate treatment improves when a person receives feedback about their blood methotrexate levels. If successful, this approach could be incorporated into routine clinical practice and, not only reduce healthcare costs, but also improve the health of people with rheumatoid arthritis.

More information can be found in the published article here.