"This drug heralds a new dawn in the treatment of this disease as it is the first evidence we have of a drug which can have a significant benefit on the structure of the bone."
Professor Conaghan, previously chairman of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence group on the management of osteoarthritis, added: "We now need larger studies to replicate these findings, the results of which we hope will open up a new class of drug."
The treatment, known as M1V-711, is based on a molecule involved in the turnover of bone and cartilage in the joints. It works by interfering with the process that leads to joint breakdown.
It was tested against patients given a placebo and after six months those receiving the treatment showed a 65 per cent reduction in bone loss.
Those on the dummy pills showed slight increases in bone loss. The drug, which was shown to have relatively few side effects, also halted cartilage loss, with those on low doses experiencing a 70 per cent reduction in cartilage thickness and those on higher doses showing a slight increase in cartilage thickness.