An experimental drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis is showing promise for patients who haven't been helped by existing medications.

The drug, called tofacitinib and made by Pfizer, targets the diseases's progression instead of treating its symptoms, like many current therapies.

In two new large clinical trials, Pfizer's drug was found to be effective and improved physical function in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Tofacitinib is in a different class of drugs than pain medications like Merck's Vioxx, which is now off the market because of its link to severe heart problems.

Doctors report that the most common side effects of the drug are headache and upper respiratory infections.

Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration recommended approval of the drug earlier this year. A final decision is expected sometime this month.

Like many autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women. Symptoms tend to appear in middle age.

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