New systemic treatments for psoriasis

A new group of medications, called biologics, is available to treat moderate-to-severe cases of psoriasis. Biologics are different from other types of medications in that they are made from living cells. Biologics work by acting on the immune system. They decrease the activity of immune system cells known as T cells. These cells become overactive in psoriasis, leading to uncontrolled skin cell growth, which causes the plaques and scales that accompany psoriasis. Biologics treat psoriasis by helping to control skin cell growth.

Biologics zero in on the part of the immune system that directly affects the psoriasis. . This makes them more selective than immunosuppressants (a group of medications including cyclosporine and methotrexate), which decrease the activity of the immune system in general.

The first biologic available in Canada for the treatment of psoriasis is alefacept. It is given once a week by intramuscular (into a muscle) injection. People can usually learn to self-inject at home. The usual treatment period is 12 weeks. On average, alefacept can give people an 8-month remission.

The most common side effects of alefacept are headache, runny nose, and sore throat. Less commonly, it may cause dizziness; nausea; and bleeding, swelling, or a lump at the injection area. More serious and rare side effects include infection, liver problems, and allergic reactions. It is not known whether alfeacept is safe during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

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