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New Drug Treatment for Psoriasis

Experimental Drug Amevive Shown to Be Effective
WebMD Health News

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 skin disorder.


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."

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