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      Rituxan Improves Strength In Form Of Muscular Dystrophy


      The blockbuster drug Rituxan appears to fight a form of muscular dystrophy, according to research published Sunday in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

      Treatment with Rituxan resulted in improved muscle strength in two patients with dysferlin-deficient muscular dystrophy, or a condition related to polymyositis, according to the article. This is the latest in a series of indications Rituxan has shown efficacy in treating.

      The findings are pertinent to treating Miyoshi myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy, the article stated.

      Rituxan soared to fame in the late 1990s as the first approved monoclonal antibody cancer therapeutic. It was approved by the FDA in 1997. Rituxan targets an antigen called CD20 found on white blood cells called B cells.

      Its success in treating low-grade, follicular non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma marked a milestone not only for NHL patients, but for San Diego’s biotechnology industry. Rituxan single-handedly saved Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp., now part of Biogen Idec, from bankruptcy. Idec, which was nearly out of cash in the mid-90s, partnered with Genentech to bring the drug to market, and it has been a cash cow for both companies. Genentech is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Swiss pharma giant Roche.

      William H. Rastetter, the former CEO of Idec whose struggle to bring Rituxan to market is biotech legend, is now CEO of the San Diego-based biotech Receptos, and a partner in the venture capital firm Venrock, among his other roles.

      Rituxan works by ridding the body of B cells, which become cancerous in non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma. (It may also have other mechanisms of action, but these are less known). Moreover, B cell dysfunction has been implicated in immune-related diseases, so administering Rituxan brings relief. Besides NHL, Rituxan is approved for treating rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease, and for CD20 positive chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

      July 13, 2010


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