Aug. 4, 2004 -- Three months ago, the rheumatoid arthritis drug Enbrel became the first drug of its kind to win FDA approval for the treatment of psoriasis. Now, early research suggests that the similarly acting arthritis drug Humira is also highly effective in treating the debilitating skin condition.
After 24 weeks of treatment with every-other week injections of Humira, 42% of patients with moderate or severe psoriasis treated experienced improvements in symptoms of 90% or more. Two thirds of patients experienced a 75% or greater reduction in symptoms.
After 24 weeks of treatment, the patients also reported that their quality of life was no longer affected by psoriasis.
"Patients often feel liberated (on these therapies)," study researcher Kenneth B. Gordon, MD, tells WebMD. "They are often reluctant to start on medication, but once they start taking (these drugs) and realize how much better they feel, they don't want to stop taking them."
Between 4 million and 6 million Americans suffer from psoriasis, characterized by scaly and cracked skin, pain, and patches of itchy, red, inflamed skin. Until recently, treatment was limited to topical steroid creams, ultraviolet light therapy, and drugs such as Accutane, methotrexate, and cyclosporine. Though these drugs work for many patients, their use is limited by potentially serious long-term side effects.
In January 2003, the drug Amevive became the first biologic agent approved for the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis, and the drug Raptiva was approved for the same purpose last fall. Both drugs are called biologics and work by suppressing the hyperactive immune system response that triggers psoriasis.
Enbrel and Humira are biologics that target a protein in the body called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which is a key player in the inflammatory process that triggers psoriasis.
Gordon tells WebMD that the early experience with the biologic drugs like Enbrel, Raptiva, and now Humira suggests that the drugs continue to suppress psoriasis outbreaks for long periods with few side effects.
Gordon says starting on a biologic has changed the lives of many of his patients. He tells the story of one man who had not taken a vacation in years because his skin condition embarrassed him so badly. After eight weeks in the Humira study, Gordon says, the man took his entire family to Costa Rica.