How Actemra Works

Actemra works by blocking the interleukin-6 receptor (IL-6R) found on the surface of cells within the body. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a signalling protein, or cytokine, that plays an important role in immune response.

IL-6 is secreted by the immune system’s white blood cells, including T-cells and macrophages, to stimulate an immune response. They might release IL-6 during an infection, or after an injury that damages tissue, and its release leads to inflammation.

Some patients with vasculitis and arthritis might have abnormally high IL-6 levels. This can cause pain and swelling in the joints and the blood vessels.

Actemra is a type of protein known as a monoclonal antibody that blocks IL-6 from working. In blocking IL-6, Actemra suppresses the body’s immune system. Although this suppression can make it slightly harder for patients to fight off infections, it also helps to stabilize an overactive immune system.

Side Effects of Actemra

Actemra (tocilizumab) can cause headaches or pain/redness/swelling at the injection site. People taking this medication should call their doctor if these symptoms persist or get worse.

Actemra can rarely cause an allergic reaction during an infusion.

Actemra has rarely been associated with an injury to the bowel (holes in the wall of the bowel). Patients should tell their doctor if they develop stomach pain during treatment with this medicine.

Patients have very rarely developed conditions of the nervous system while taking Actemra.

Who Should NOT Take Actemra

People that should NOT be taking Actemra include:

  • Anyone who has had a previous serious allergic reaction to Actemra
  • Pregnant women, women who are planning on becoming pregnant in the near future, women who are currently breastfeeding
  • People with an active infection (such as tuberculosis)
  • Possibly people who have cancer or have had a past history of certain cancers.

People taking Actemra who are about to have surgery should discuss stopping the medication with their doctor.

When to Call a Doctor

People taking Actemra should call their doctor if they feel sick and want to stop, or if they are concerned about any side effects.

Other reasons for people taking Actemra to call a doctor include:

  • Fever or possible infection
  • Upcoming surgery
  • Becoming pregnant
  • Before getting any vaccinations
  • Developing a rash
  • Developing stomach pain

Actemra Video

Watch Dr. Andy Thompson, a Canadian rheumatologist, introduce Actemra.