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New Hope for the Heartbreak of Psoriasis?

WebMD Health News

March 19, 2001 -- Your skin is scaly, bumpy, red, and itchy. You see your doctor, who diagnoses you with psoriasis. What do you do? If your condition is severe, your options are limited, but research into new drugs is providing new hope.

Psoriasis is a condition in which patches of the skin become inflamed, red, itchy, and topped with silvery white scales. Believed to be caused by a malfunction of the immune system in which the normal growth of skin cells is sped up, psoriasis is both unsightly and uncomfortable. For most people, psoriasis is limited to a few patches, called plaques, usually around the joints, which can be managed fairly well with creams. Those with more severe psoriasis, however, may become almost completely covered with plaques and must take medicines -- either in pill form alone or combined with a form of light therapy -- to control it.

Still, there are few effective remedies for severe psoriasis, and those that exist can cause serious side effects, including liver and kidney damage. Individuals who must take these drugs have to be monitored regularly by their doctors to make sure they are not seriously damaging their internal organs.

The good news is that several new options to treat severe psoriasis are on the horizon. These include improved creams, new drugs, and even laser therapy. One of these new drugs, which will be marketed by its manufacturer, Genentech Inc., as Xanelim, is showing great promise in early research, which was presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology 57th Annual Meeting on Monday.

"There are an estimated 7 million [people with psoriasis] in the U.S., of which approximately 2 million are thought to have moderate to severe disease," Xanelim's lead researcher Craig Leonardi, MD, tells WebMD. "These patients have been waiting for a long, long time for a new approach for this severe and disabling condition. Many of these patients have actually disengaged from the healthcare system because they've grown discouraged with the treatment options. ... Medicines such as Xanelim offer a convenient and safe alternative treatment for them. It's going to be a very significant drug when it's finally approved." Leonardi is a dermatologist in private practice who works with Radiant Research in St. Louis. He also is on the clinical faculty at St. Louis University School of Medicine.

In the early research on Xanelim, 61 individuals with severe psoriasis that covered a large portion of their bodies were given once-weekly injections of the drug for 12 weeks. Using a standard scale to measure the severity of psoriasis, most participants improved by at least 50%, according to Leonardi. Doctors' overall assessment of these individuals improved as well, and various laboratory tests also indicated that the drug was working.

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