The Benefits and Risks of Biologics

In recent years, various biologic drugs have come on the market to fight psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Biologics are injectable protein-based medicines that target specific parts of the immune system to slow the overgrowth of skin cells, which cause psoriasis. Biologics are typically prescribed to individuals with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis. The National Psoriasis Foundation provides detailed information about the various types of biologic drugs available on their website,Psoriasis.org.

Many psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis sufferers have reported great success from the use of biologics. For instance, PGA golfer Phil Mickelson has publicly endorsed the biologic drug, Enbrel, and how it has improved his life and allowed him to continue his successful PGA career. Mickelson told the press, “I’ll probably take this drug for about a year, and feel 100 percent. I’ll stop it and see if it goes into remission and it may never come back. It may be gone forever.”

However, with the benefits of biologics come health risks and possibly serious side effects. As a recent article in the Detroit Free Press discusses, biologics “can bring on their own problems, including infections that trigger skin outbreaks, tuberculosis and rare cases of lymphoma, a type of cancer.”

Moreover, as is the case with many other psoriasis treatments, it is unclear how long the body will respond to biologics. As explained by Dr. Thomas Anderson, medical director of the University of Michigan Day Treatment Center, “The hoopla is that with these new drugs a person can get a shot that takes care of their psoriasis for three months; that’s a good thing.” However, Dr. Anderson explained that, “as time goes on, these drugs may not be as effective in some patients…If you get an infection while you are on one of those drugs, your body may not be as capable of getting rid of it.”

The National Psoriasis Foundation reports that common side effects for biologics include respiratory infections, flu-like symptoms and injection site reactions. Much more rare side effects include serious nervous system disorders, blood disorders and certain types of cancer.

Because of the risks and possible side effects, many psoriasis sufferers have chosen to stick to other therapies or alternative medical treatments in lieu of biologics, including steroid creams and light therapy. However, as discussed in previous blog posts, these treatments are not without their own risks.

On June 29, 2011, the National Psoriasis Foundation will host a webcast, entitled Systemics and Biologics: Risks and Rewards, which will discuss the benefits and possible side effects of systemics and biologics used to treat psoriasis. You can sign up here.

If you are considering biologic drugs, speak with your doctor about whether they are right for you.


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