HUNDREDS of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in Hartlepool and east Durham could gain from new treatment given the go-ahead for use on the NHS.
Around 24,000 sufferers nationwide could benefit after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has approved RoActemra (tocilizumab) at an earlier stage in progression of the debilitating disease.
The drug is already used by around 1,200 patients at later stages of the disease, but the approval follows a discount scheme agreed between pharmaceutical giant Roche and the Department of Health.
NHS figures suggest the disease affects 400,000 people in England and Wales and it strikes more women than men.
It is most common between the ages of 40 and 70, but it can affect people of any age.
Roche estimates that 24,000 more patients could benefit from the new guidance, but Nice has put the figure at around 40,000 in total.