By Dennis Thompson
WEDNESDAY, July 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new psoriasis drug delivered dramatic results in two clinical trials, perhaps heralding an effective new treatment for patients with the chronic skin disease.
"Over a quarter of patients have not a dot of psoriasis left," said study co-author Dr. Mark Lebwohl, chairman of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
"Over half the patients have a 90 percent improvement in their psoriasis, and that means there's hardly any psoriasis left. This kind of data is better than anything we've seen in the past," he added.
The study results were published online July 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Psoriasis causes overproduction of skin cells, which results in thick red marks and flaky white lesions that itch and burn. As many as 7.5 million Americans -- about 2.2 percent of the population -- have psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Secukinumab is a laboratory-engineered antibody that targets interleukin-17A, a pro-inflammatory protein in the body that has been previously linked to psoriasis.
The strong response to the new drug shows that researchers likely have singled out a primary cause of psoriasis, said Dr. Abby Van Voorhees, director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The study "really does validate the type of cell that we think is sentinel in psoriasis," said Van Voorhees, chair of the National Psoriasis Foundation's medical board. The report also "advances our understanding of the disease, as well as gives us a new medication that will be very effective," she said.
In one of the two trials, doctors randomly gave the injectable medication to two-thirds of 738 psoriasis patients. They received a dose of either 300 milligrams or 150 mg weekly for five weeks and then every four weeks thereafter. The remaining third received a placebo.
Within 12 weeks, four out of five patients who received 300 mg of secukinumab experienced a 75 percent improvement in their psoriasis symptoms, compared to one of every 20 patients who received a placebo, the study found.