n the past 10 years, the treatment of psoriatic arthritis has dramatically improved thanks to the creation of biologic response modifier (or biologic) drugs. Biologics, which are made from living things such as human and animal proteins, target specific areas of the immune system that cause psoriatic arthritis.
The drugs have offered tremendous hope for those with moderate to severe psoriatic arthritis, providing treatment success, usually without serious side effects.
Biologic Drugs at Work
Unlike other systemic treatments for psoriatic arthritis that affect the entire immune system, biologic drugs are designed to weaken or block only certain parts of the immune system, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and specific Interleukin (IL) molecules. TNF-alpha, a substance created in excess by people with psoriatic arthritis, triggers inflammation, which leads to joint damage, pain, stiffness, and swelling. Interleukins are a protein family of inflammatory mediators.
Some biologic drugs prescribed for psoriatic arthritis are given by self-injection weekly or monthly, but others require injection or infusion at the doctor’s office. Biologics effective in treating psoriatic arthritis currently include:
- Adalimumab (Humira)
- Etanercept (Enbrel)
- Golimumab (Simponi)
- Infliximab (Remicade)
- Secukinumab (Cosentyx)
Understanding the Benefits and Risks
Biologic drugs have been shown to significantly improve symptoms of psoriatic arthritis for most people without causing unwanted side effects such as organ damage. The drugs have also been shown to slow or prevent disease-related joint damage.
Biologic drugs are fairly new, and it’s important to know that long-term research on potential risks is not available. Because biologics target the immune system, risk for infection is a serious concern. Studies on individuals with rheumatoid arthritis who have taken the drugs for at least 10 years have not found any major problems.
Limitations to Biologics
Despite the treatment success of biologic drugs for people with psoriatic arthritis, they aren’t available for every person with the disease. One reason is that they are extremely expensive and not affordable without good health insurance. Even then, many insurers require patients to try “traditional” disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) first.
To learn if biologics could benefit you, talk with your doctor. Psoriatic arthritis affects each person differently. Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on your individual condition and needs.