Costly hip and knee replacements could be averted by giving patients a “breakthrough” drug costing less than £1 a day, trial results suggest.
The treatment is said to be the first to slow the progress of osteoarthritis (OA), the wear-and-tear disease that destroys joints.
Strontium ranelate, marketed as Protelos, is a powder that is mixed with water to make a lemon-flavoured drink.
It is already used to prevent fractures in post-menopausal women with the brittle bone disease osteoporosis.
The new findings, presented at the European Congress on Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ECCEO) in Bordeaux, France, showed that Protelos reduced deterioration of knee joint cartilage in a group of OA patients by a third over three years.
It also led to a significant reduction in pain and mobility.
An estimated 8.5 million people in the UK are affected by the condition in which joint cartilage and bone are worn away.
The painful and disabling condition is especially common in older people.