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Medication Information Updated March 2022
Tocilizumab (brand name Actemra) belongs to a new class of medicines called biological disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (biological DMARDs or bDMARDs).
bDMARDs have now been given to over a million people worldwide since their initial use in the late 1990s.
These medicines block natural substances called cytokines, which are found in excessive amounts in the blood and joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The increased levels of cytokines cause inflammation, which results in symptoms of pain, joint swelling and stiffness, and can lead to joint damage.
By blocking the cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL- 6) tocilizumab reduces inflammation, lessens the symptoms and helps stop further joint damage.
Tocilizumab is also used to treat juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
You may notice some relief of joint swelling, pain and stiffness within the first 8 weeks of treatment.
If tocilizumab treatment is stopped for more than a few weeks there is a risk that your condition will get worse again. Continue with your treatment unless advised by your rheumatologist or unless side effects develop (see Side effects).
If you stop tocilizumab for any reason you must contact your rheumatologist. Failure to do so may mean that your continued treatment may no longer be subsidised.
Tocilizumab can be given as a drip (infusion) into the vein. The infusion normally takes one hour and is followed by a period of observation for at least one hour to make sure you don’t have any side effects. Doses are usually given every 4 weeks. It can also be given once a week as an injection given into the skin of the abdomen or thigh.
The infusion dose is based on body weight so each person's dose may be different. When given under the skin the dose is 162mg.
Tocilizumab may be safely used with other arthritis medicines including:
You might experience side effects with your treatment. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about possible side effects. Many side effects disappear when tocilizumab treatment is stopped.
If you are prescribed tocilizumab you should not be immunised with ‘live’ vaccines such as:
People with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk of lymphoma and some other cancers. Medicines that change your immune system like tocilizumab may increase this risk.
Skin cancers have been reported in people taking tocilizumab and yearly skin checks are recommended.