Studies performed by pediatric rheumatologists in the US, Europe and South America have led to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of canakinumab (Ilaris) to treat active systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA) in patients aged 2 and older.

Canakinumab, an interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) inhibitor, works by blocking an immune system protein that plays a key role in some inflammatory disorders. The drug is given as a monthly subcutaneous injection.

Approval came as a result of two international, multicenter phase III trials in children with SJIA between the ages of 2 - 19; the majority of children treated showed significant improvement. Hermine Brunner, MD, MSc, and Daniel Lovell, MD, MPH, in the Division of Rheumatology at Cincinnati Children’s, led the studies.

Only one other drug is currently approved to treat SJIA  - tocilizumab, an IL-6 inhibitor. Children with SJIA suffer from a variety of debilitating systemic symptoms and having another treatment option that controls these symptoms is, says Lovell, “a huge breakthrough.”

He adds that having two approved treatments also improves the odds of more children living healthier lives with this serious disease.

"We have more options to discuss with families and a much greater chance of having at least one therapy work. I'm very excited about what the future holds for these kids."