UCB to pit Cimzia against Humira in arthritis study

You can't accuse UCB of lacking nerve. The company says it's going to test its rheumatoid arthritis drug Cimzia against Abbott Laboratories' well established Humira treatment. As Reuters reports, it's the first industry-funded head-to-head study in the TNF-alpha inhibitor class.

It's something of a David-and-Goliath move. Approved for rheumatoid arthritis treatment in 2009, Cimzia brought in $279 million in sales last year (including scrips for the drug's initial approved use, in Crohn's disease). Humira, on the other hand, accounted for $6.5 billion in global sales for 2010. It's been on the market since 2002 and is used to treat Crohn's, psoriasis and several other conditions in addition to rheumatoid arthritis

UCB hopes that some competitive data would help it differentiate Cimzia from the rest of the TNF-alpha blockers. The trial will analyze performance of the two drugs in combination with methotrexate. After 12 weeks of treatment, patients who've responded to their drug combos will continue on that regimen, while non-responders will be switched to the alternative combo. The trial will end after 104 weeks of treatment.

Of course, Cimzia doesn't just compete against Humira. Other TNF-alpha meds include Johnson & Johnson's Remicade and Amgen's Enbrel. But head-to-head data could still give it a big leg up.

- read the Reuters news