First biologic for osteoarthritis may trigger tough talk about trade-offs

Tanezumab is a nerve growth factor inhibitor for moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis.

October 20, 2020

Drug name: tanezumab
Manufacturer: Pfizer/Lilly
ondition: Osteoarthritis
PDUFA Date: December 2020

Condition overview

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of arthritis. About 27 million Americans have OA; 11 million have moderate-to-severe OA. OA occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. As cartilage breaks down in a joint, the underlying bone is damaged, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. As OA progresses, patients may experience disability and reduced function. They may no longer be able to work or do daily tasks.1

Depending on the patient, physical and occupational therapy, and/or a program of regular, gentle exercise can strengthen areas surrounding the weakened joint, improve flexibility and reduce pain. This may extend the patient’s ability to participate in daily living activities.2

Treatment / Medications

There are many medications available for the pain associated with OA including:1

  • Topical and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs
  • Oral cyclooxygenase-2 selective inhibitors (COX-2s)
  • Acetaminophen
  • Intra-articular corticosteroids or viscosupplements
  • Tramadol
  • Duloxetine
  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Opioids

Each drug therapy option has its own side effects that need to be weighed against the potential for pain relief. None of these treatments can slow or reverse the destruction of joint structures.

About one third of patients with moderate-to-severe OA pain will have an inadequate response to these treatments. And surgical replacements for hips and knees have become commonplace. Nearly 800,000 knee replacement surgeries, for example, are performed every year in the U.S.3


Tanezumab is a monoclonal antibody nerve growth factor (NGF) inhibitor.2 NGF levels increase in the body as a result of injury, inflammation or chronic pain states. Tanezumab works by targeting, binding to and inhibiting NGF. By stopping NGF, tanezumab helps to keep pain signals from reaching the spinal cord and brain. This is different than the way other typical pain relievers work, like opioids and analgesics. And in studies to date, tanezumab has not demonstrated a risk of addiction, misuse or dependence.4,5

Tanezumab is taken as a bimonthly subcutaneous injection administered by a health care professional. Cost is expected to impact the medical benefit.

Comparable pain relief that risks faster disease progression

Studies have shown that tanezumab provides similar pain relief when compared with NSAIDS. But patients who use tanezumab increase their risk of rapidly progressive OA. These patients would then have an earlier need for total joint replacement compared to other treatment options and placebo.

If approved by the FDA, a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) strategy is needed so the risks and benefits of treatment are clear to prescribers and patients.6

The drug pipeline is full of new, groundbreaking specialty drugs that may help members feel better and live well. Prime focuses on clinical strategies designed to keep clients ahead of drug trends — because it’s easier to manage change when you see it coming.

Drug names are the property of their respective owners.


1. Search term: osteoarthritis. Accessed in September 2020.



4. Tanezumab, a potential first-in-class treatment for patients with chronic pain due to moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis. Accessed in September 2020:



Related research

Drug pipeline updates

October 14, 2021

November 2021 decisions expected from the FDA

At Prime Therapeutics (Prime), we’ve positioned ourselves to best prepare our clients to…

Drug pipeline updates

September 30, 2021

Drug Pipeline Quarterly Update: September 2021

These quarterly pipeline wrap-ups include new molecular entity approvals, drugs with approvable status…

Drug pipeline updates

September 12, 2021

October 2021 decisions expected from the FDA

At Prime Therapeutics (Prime), we’ve positioned ourselves to best prepare our clients to…