Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD
Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Psoriasis facts
- What is psoriasis?
- What causes psoriasis?
- What does psoriasis look like? What are psoriasis symptoms and signs?
- Can psoriasis affect my joints?
- How is psoriasis diagnosed?
- Can psoriasis affect only my nails?
- How many people have psoriasis?
- Is psoriasis curable?
- Is psoriasis contagious?
- Can I transmit the gene for psoriasis to my children?
- What kind of doctor treats psoriasis?
- What is the treatment for psoriasis?
- What creams, lotions, and home remedies are available for psoriasis?
- What oral medications are available for psoriasis?
- What injections or infusions are available for psoriasis?
- What about light therapy for psoriasis?
- Where can I get more information on psoriasis?
- Is there a national psoriasis support group?
- What is my long-term prognosis with psoriasis? What are complications of psoriasis?
- Moderate to Severe Psoriasis Slideshow
- Take the Psoriasis Quiz
- Psoriasis FAQs
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What injections or infusions are available for psoriasis?
The newest category of psoriasis drugs are called biologics. All biologics work by suppressing certain specific portions of the immune system that are overactive in psoriasis. Available biologic drugs include alefacept (Amevive), adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), and ustekinumab (Stelara). Newer drugs are in development and available in the near future. As this class of drugs is fairly new, ongoing monitoring and adverse effect reporting continues and long-term safety continues to be monitored.
A recently approved biologic product for adults who have a moderate to severe form of psoriasis is ustekinumab (Stelara). Stelara is a laboratory-produced antibody that treats psoriasis by blocking the action of two proteins (interleukins) that contribute to the overproduction of skin inflammation.
Learn more about: Stelara
Some biologics are to be administered by self-injections for home use while others are given by intravenous infusions in the physician's office.
As with any drug, side effects are possible with all biologic drugs. Common potential side effects include mild local injection-site reactions (redness and tenderness). There is concern of serious infections and potential malignancy with nearly all biologic drugs.
Precautions include patients with known or suspected hepatitis B infection, active tuberculosis, and possibly HIV/AIDS. As a general consideration, these drugs may not be an ideal choice for patients with a history of cancer and patients actively undergoing cancer therapy.
In particular, there may be an increased association of lymphoma in patients taking biologics. It is not at all certain if this association is directly caused by these drugs. In part, this is because it is known that certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis may be associated with an inherent increase in the overall risk of some infections and malignancies.
Biologics are expensive medications ranging in price from several to tens of thousands of dollars per year per person. Their use may be limited by availability, cost, and insurance approval. Not all insurance drug plans may fully cover these drugs for all conditions. Patients need to check with their insurance and may require a prior authorization request for coverage approval. Some of the biologics manufacturers have patient-assistance programs to help with financial issues.
The choice of the right medication for your condition depends on many medical factors. Additionally, convenience of receiving the medication and lifestyle may be factors in choosing the right biologic medication.
Currently, the main classes of biologic drugs for psoriasis are
- TNF (tumor necrosis factor) blockers,
- drugs that interfere with interleukin chemical messengers of inflammation.
TNF blockers include Enbrel (etanercept), Remicade (infliximab), and Humira (adalimumab). TNF-alpha blocking drugs may have an advantage of treating psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis skin disease. Their disadvantage is that some patients may notice a decrease in the effectiveness of TNF-alpha blocking drugs over months to years.
TNF blockers are generally not used in patients with demyelinating (neurological) diseases like multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure, or patients with severe overall low blood counts called pancytopenia.
The major side effect of these class of drugs is suppression of the immune system. Because of the increased risk of infections while on these drugs, patients should promptly report fevers or signs of infection to their physicians. Minor side effects have included autoimmune conditions like lupus or flares in lupus. Additionally, it is best to avoid any live vaccines while using TNF blockers.
- Enbrel (etanercept) is a self-injectable medication for home use. It is injected via a small needle just under the skin, called subcutaneous injection. It is usually dosed once or twice week by patients at home after training with their physician or the nursing staff. Sometimes a higher loading dose is used for the first 12 weeks and then it is "stepped down" to half the dose after the first 12 weeks. Enbrel has the advantage of at least 16 years of clinical use and long-term experience.
- Remicade (infliximab) is an intravenous (IV) medication strictly for physician office or special infusion medical center use. It is dosed specifically based on your weight. It is currently not for home use or self-injection. It is injected slowly over time via a small needle into a vein. It may usually be dosed once a week. There have been reports of antibodies to this drug in patients taking it for some time. These antibodies may cause a greater drug-dose requirement for achieving disease improvement or failure to improve. The IV route may be more time-consuming, requiring physician during the infusions. Remicade has the advantage of fast disease response and good potency.
- Humira (adalimumab) is a self-injectable medication for home use. It is injected via a small needle just under the skin as a subcutaneous dose. It is usually dosed once every other week, totaling 26 injections in one year. Dosing is individualized and should be discussed with your physician. Sometimes a higher loading dose is used for the first dose (80 mg) and then it is continued at 40 mg every other week. It may give results as soon as one to two weeks of therapy. Humira has the advantage of at least 11 years of clinical use and long-term experience.
Drugs that interfere with interleukin mechanisms
- Ustekinumab is the newest biologic injectable medication used to modulate the immune system. It is an interleukin-12/23 human monoclonal antibody. Ustekinumab targets chemical messengers in the immune system involved in skin inflammation and skin-cell production. This drug is dosed subcutaneously (just under the skin) once a quarter (every three months). It has been very promising with very good clearance rates in the clinical trials. A major advantage may be the convenience of a quarterly medication. The concerns for infection and malignancy may be similar to the other biologics.
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