For anyone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the news that Pfizer's new arthritis drug, tofacitinib, is nearing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, is no doubt uplifting. On May 9, an FDA advisory committee announced that it supported the approval of the arthritis pill, which would represent the first pill to be able to potentially battle the debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis by contrast, the drugs available currently focus on simply numbing the pain. The potential of this drug is huge: if approved, patients would jump on the opportunity to treat their condition in a noninvasive manner, leading industry experts to estimate that tofacitinib could generate more than $1 billion in revenue by 2015.

Unfortunately, this recommendation doesn't bode well for medtech manufacturers. Because there aren't many great noninvasive options for treating rheumatoid arthritis, patients with this condition commonly resort to using medical devices to treat their pain. For example, arthroplasty and arthrodesis (which involve devices such as reconstructive joint implants and bone graft substitutes) are common treatments for pain in the joints, while spinal implants can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in the facet joints and intervertebral discs. If the potential for this drug is as big as the hype suggests, the effect on these markets would be notable and if approved, strong adoption of this drug would no doubt be supported by the fact that it has a company as big as Pfizer pushing it.

But not all is decided yet the FDA could still deny approval for tofacitinib and put a wrinkle in Pfizer's plans. However, it's looking more and more like orthopedic device companies are going to have to gear themselves up for more competition from pharmaceuticals in this area in the near future: aside from Pfizer, other companies such as Eli Lilly, Incyte, AstraZeneca, and Rigel are all in the process of developing new medications to treat this condition.

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