Pfizer Inc. is announcing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its pill Xeljanz to treat moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.

The largest pharmaceutical company notes Xeljanz, which is seen as a potential big seller, is for patients who cannot take methotrexate or haven’t been helped by it. Xeljanz is intended to slow the progression of the disease. The approval comes about two weeks sooner than expected.

Xeljanz, also known as tofacitinib, is the first rheumatoid arthritis treatment from a new class of pain medications called JAK inhibitors. The drugs interfere with enzymes in the body that contribute to tissue inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a major area of research for drug companies because it is a chronic condition. Therefore, patients will likely take drugs regularly to alleviate it for a long time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported arthritis  affects 3 million U.S. Hispanics and Latinos.

“These findings suggest a critical need to expand the reach of effective strategies aimed at arthritis prevention and management, particularly among underserved populations,” said Dr. John Klippel, President and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation on the CDC release.

“Hispanics…will account for nearly a third of our population by 2050. That is why it’s important to understand how arthritis, the most common cause of disability, affects their lives and their work,” said Dr. Wayne H. Giles, Director of the Division of Adult and Community Health at the CDC. “This study…will help us to target our limited resources in ways that maximize the impact public health measures have on improving the lives of Hispanics with arthritis.”

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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