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Bristol-Myers Squibb Company’s (BMY - Analyst Report) rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug Orencia (125 mg) performed well in a phase IIIb study (AVERT: n= 351). The study evaluated Orencia in combination with methotrexate (MTX) as a first-line therapy for adults suffering from the chronic autoimmune disease.

Data from the active-controlled study revealed that at 12 months of treatment, 60.9% patients in the Orencia plus MTX arm achieved DAS-defined (DAS28 CRP <2.6) remission compared to only 45.2% patients in the MTX arm. DAS28-CRP (C-reactive protein) is a traditional measure of disease activity. Other more stringent efficacy measures also revealed higher remission rates for adults treated with the cocktail therapy.

In addition, data from the study revealed that even after the withdrawal of all RA drugs, the benefits were maintained (for 6 months) in more patients in the combination arm than those treated solely with MTX. Orencia was also found to be well tolerated in the study. Bristol-Myers presented the data at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR).

Orencia, one of the older drugs at Bristol-Myers, is available both in intravenous as well as subcutaneous forms. The drug performed well in the first quarter of 2014, with sales climbing 13% year over year to $363 million.

Besides Bristol-Myers, we note that the RA market includes players like Pfizer (PFE - Analyst Report) and AbbVie (ABBV - Analyst Report).

Bristol-Myers carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).  An example of a better-ranked stock in the healthcare space is Gilead Sciences (GILD - Analyst Report), carrying a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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