Jan. 13, 2010 -- A recently approved drug, Stelara, is more effective than a
more established drug, Enbrel, in treating moderate to severe psoriasis, according to a new study.
The findings, reported this week in the New England Journal of
Medicine, may help patients whose extensive psoriasis is not
well-controlled to find an alternative treatment.
"I think it's pretty clear that Stelara is a dramatically effective drug,
one of the most effective drugs we've ever had for psoriasis," Mark Lebwohl,
MD, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine,
tells WebMD. Lebwohl's department was one of 67 sites worldwide to participate
in the study.
Both Stelara and Enbrel are biologics -- treatments made up of genetically
engineered proteins -- and used to treat patients who have moderate to severe
psoriasis that has not responded to traditional systemic therapies such as methotrexate.
But the two drugs have completely different mechanisms of action. While
Enbrel blocks tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), Stelara targets two
inflammatory chemicals, interleukin 12 and interleukin 23, which are involved
in the pathogenesis of psoriasis.
Study researcher Christopher Griffiths, MD, a professor of dermatology at
England's University of Manchester Medical School, says if patients taking
Enbrel have well-controlled psoriasis, they need not switch to Stelara.
The study's conclusion "just gives those individuals the reassurance that if
for some reason the Enbrel stops working, or wasn't working as effectively as
it was at the beginning, that there's a proven, logical alternative therapy
that they could switch to."
In the study, 903 patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis got
either Stelara (high or low dose) or high-dose Enbrel.
At week 12 of the study, 65% of patients in the lower-dose Stelara group and
almost 71% of those in the higher-dose Stelara group had, at most, minimal
signs of their psoriasis, according to their doctors, compared to 49% of
patients treated with Enbrel.
"We've never had a drug that with so few injections worked so well," Lebwohl
says. Patients in the Sterlara group got one injection when they started the
study and another one four weeks later; patients receiving Enbrel received two
injections every week for 12 weeks.
Lebwohl says he's not surprised by the study's outcome. "We've been hearing
about [Stelara] for years." It has been on the market in Europe and Canada for
The study was sponsored by Centocor, the pharmaceutical company that makes
Stelara. Lebwohl has served as an investigator for both Centocor and Amgen, the
company that manufactures Enbrel.
Lebwohl's advice to people with psoriasis is to weigh their options. Many
patients do well on Enbrel, and it has a long safety track record. Stelara, on
the other hand, is more effective than Enbrel, but it has not been around
long enough to fully gauge how safe it is, he notes.