updated 3/1/2006 11:42:57 AM ET 2006-03-01T16:42:57

The nation’s best-selling cancer drug has won federal approval as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients for whom other, older drugs don’t work, Genentech Inc. and Biogen Idec Inc. said Wednesday.

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The Food and Drug Administration action comes more than eight years after the agency initially approved Rituxan to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The two companies said Rituxan should be used by patients who haven’t had success with a class of rheumatoid arthritis drugs called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, blockers. Those drugs include Enbrel, Remicade and Humira.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks tissues in the joints, causing inflammation and destroying cartilage, tendons and bones. It often causes disabilities.

Rituxan, known formally as rituximab, is being studied as a treatment for other autoimmune diseases, including lupus and multiple sclerosis, the companies said. The drug is administered intravenously.

Genentech is based in South San Francisco, Calif. Biogen Idec is based in Cambridge, Mass.

An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet next week to discuss allowing another Biogen Idec drug, Tysabri, back on the market. The multiple sclerosis drug was pulled last year after it was linked to a rare and often fatal brain disease.

The nation’s best-selling cancer drug has won federal approval as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients for whom other, older drugs don’t work, Genentech Inc. and Biogen Idec Inc. said Wednesday.

The Food and Drug Administration action comes more than eight years after the agency initially approved Rituxan to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The two companies said Rituxan should be used by patients who haven’t had success with a class of rheumatoid arthritis drugs called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, blockers. Those drugs include Enbrel, Remicade and Humira.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks tissues in the joints, causing inflammation and destroying cartilage, tendons and bones. It often causes disabilities.

Rituxan, known formally as rituximab, is being studied as a treatment for other autoimmune diseases, including lupus and multiple sclerosis, the companies said. The drug is administered intravenously.

Genentech is based in South San Francisco, Calif. Biogen Idec is based in Cambridge, Mass.

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