New Drug Treatment for Psoriasis
Experimental Drug Amevive Shown to Be Effective
July 25, 2001 -- For people with severe psoriasis, the
treatments can be as bad as the disease. But several new therapies currently
being studied offer hope of a more targeted and less risky approach to coping
with the disease.
Psoriasis, which affects approximately 1-3% of the world's
population, is a skin disease that appears as patches of raised red skin
covered by a flaky white buildup. It's thought to be related to faulty signals
sent by the body's immune system, although the exact cause is unknown.
Immune-system-suppressing drugs used to treat cancer and organ
transplant patients are currently the best options for severe psoriasis, but
these drugs can be very toxic.
But new agents that specifically target cells that contribute
to the skin condition are proving to be very effective at controlling the
disease, and doing so with few side effects.
"For the first time we are in a position to treat these
most serious cases of psoriasis over the long term with a therapy that has an
excellent safety profile," Charles N. Ellis, MD, professor and chief of
dermatology at the University of Michigan Health Systems, tells WebMD.
"Psoriasis is a terrible thing to have, but it is not usually
life-threatening. So a drug's safety profile is critical."
In the July 26 issue of the New England Journal of
Medicine, Ellis and colleagues report that the experimental drug Amevive,
made by Biogen, is effective and well tolerated in the treatment of patients
with moderate to severe chronic plaque psoriasis, the most common form of the
In the study, 229 patients received 12 weeks of injections with
either Amevive or an identical-looking placebo. They were then monitored for an
additional 12 weeks. At the end of the follow-up period, approximately one out
of four patients who got the new drug had complete, or nearly complete,
clearing of their psoriasis. Three patients on placebo had similar results, but
those three had also received additional treatment.
Patients were able to go about 10 months before needing a
second course of treatment.
Previous European and American studies on approximately 1,500
psoriasis patients have shown that additional courses of therapy with Amevive
are as effective as the first course. According to Ellis, some patients have
received three courses of the drug and continue to respond.
In general, things are looking up for people with psoriasis.
Just last month, a study in the journal The Lancet reported that the
vast majority of psoriasis patients given the arthritis drug Remicade responded
well to treatment.
"I expect that we will see a radical shift in the treatment
of this disease," says Mark Lebwohl, MD, who chairs the department of
dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, at New York University. "You
will see multiple agents entering the market and they will not only impact how
we treat psoriasis, but how we treat other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis,
Crohn's disease, and a variety of other conditions."