What are JAK Inhibitors and how do they help?

When you hear about arthritis treatments, you may have heard the term “DMARDs”. DMARDs stands for disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. These are medications that help fight the effects of arthritis and are available in a few different forms. “Conventional synthetic” DMARDs, such as methotrexate, are often one of the first medications used to treat people with a form of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. “Biological” DMARDs, also known as biologics, are medications created from living cells and can target specific proteins or immune system signals in the body. And then there are “targeted synthetic” DMARDs, which are small molecules that can target very specific molecules in the body. The latest form of targeted synthetic DMARDs can offer an additional option for treating arthritis.

JAK inhibitors

When talking about DMARDs, the term “inhibitor” is often heard. An inhibitor is a medication that suppresses a function in the human body. Many DMARDs prevent a specific part of the inflammatory response from taking place, such as stopping/preventing processes that might overact and impact keeping joints healthy. A new type of DMARD, in the targeted synthetic category, suppresses certain enzymes in our bodies from the Janus kinase (JAK) family. These are called JAK inhibitors.

JAK inhibitors work by targeting a pathway in the immune system. This means that when inflammatory agents called cytokines try to communicate with the rest of the immune system, the medication helps the body block the signals. This can stop disease progression for individuals with inflammatory arthritis.

Using JAK inhibitors

There are now a few JAK inhibitors on the market in Canada. These medications are unique, as they are taken orally in pill or tablet form, unlike the biologics category of DMARDs, which are currently administered through infusion or injection. This means JAK inhibitors are a different option for some people who may have difficulty with injections or infusions.

As with many DMARDs, JAK inhibitors can take some time to work before seeing an effect. This could be anywhere from weeks to months to feel the full effects. As more of this type of medication becomes available, they are likely to be considered as a next generation treatment for people who would currently be candidates for biologics.

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