Health Team

Experimental drug brings relief for gout sufferers

Posted October 27, 2008 5:55 p.m. EDT

— About 3 million people in the U.S. suffer a painful form of arthritis called gout. Most of those people find relief through medication, but there's been no treatment available for the most severe cases.

Now, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found a drug that some patients call a miracle.

Janet Wheeless and Lonnie Matthews both suffered severe, disabling gout.

“I couldn't shower. I couldn't tie my shoes. I couldn't dress myself,” Wheeless said.

“It was miserable. I had so long felt like life wasn't worth living,” Matthews said.

What happens in gout is that excessive levels of uric acid in the blood can leave painful crystals called tophi in soft tissues and joints.

Often it’s in the fingers, “but any joint of the body can be involved,” Dr. John Sundy, a Duke rheumatologist.

Other drug therapies had failed to help Wheeless or Matthews, so both joined a Duke study to test a medication called Pegloticase.

“It's a medication that is a protein that actually chews up uric acid,” Sundy explained.

Sundy said the drug reduced uric acid in the blood to a safe level within hours, and it remained stable in 40 percent of patients three to six months later. Wheeless said she noticed pain relief in a few weeks.

“It just seemed like overnight, the tophi just started disappearing. My hands were back like they used to be,” she said. “It saved my life.”

Researchers still don't know how much of the drug is needed, how long patients need it or how safe it is in the long term. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for general use yet.

Neither Wheeless nor Matthews want to think about life without it, however.

“It's a miracle,” Wheeless said.