Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease; the new drugs block harmful immune responses. Amevive and Raptiva were approved earlier this year as psoriasis treatments. Enbrel was approved in 1998 to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Enbrel's manufacturer, Wyeth, a WebMD sponsor, has filed for formal approval as a psoriasis treatment.
Separate clinical studies of psoriasis patients treated with Enbrel and Raptiva appear in the Nov. 20 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. So does an editorial by Thomas S. Kupper, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"At this point, there are insufficient data to support claims that one of these agents is superior to another," Kupper writes. "There may be groups of people who have a better response to one or the other of these agents."
All of these drugs likely must be taken for long periods of time -- perhaps for life. Because they interfere with the immune system, there is a danger that they will raise patients' risk of infections and maybe even cancer. It's not clear how the drugs will work over years and years of treatment. But in the short term, all have remarkable safety records. That's particularly true for Enbrel, which has been used in more than 150,000 patients -- including long-term safety studies in 2,000 patients.