If you’ve been researching the latest medical news for skin treatments, you might have heard a new term: biologics. These drugs are products produced from or containing parts from a living organism. Typically, this means the drug will have recombinant proteins, tissues, genes, allergens, cells, blood, blood components, or any combination of these parts. Biologics for skin treatments are provided via injection or intravenous infusion.
While this may sound like New Age medicine to some patients, remember that most vaccines are derived from living organisms. Common medications, like Lantus (insulin glargine), Humira (adalimumab), and Herceptin (trastuzumab) contain biological components. Even Botox, a common cosmetic procedure, is a biologic produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.
In medical dermatology, biologic drugs are most often used to treat psoriasis – and they do so very effectively. This may come as a relief to those with the condition, which manifests as red, uncomfortable, scaly patches on the skin. Biologics are also sometimes used to treat eczema, another skin condition related to the immune system. If you have either condition and are running out of treatment options, biologic drug treatment may be the answer.
Biologics Treatment for Psoriasis
Like most immune-related conditions, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for psoriasis. The goal of psoriasis treatment typically includes symptom management, but finding the medication that works with your body can take a lot of trial-and-error. Topical corticosteroids are most frequently prescribed for psoriasis treatment, but some patients find that topical retinoids, salicylic acid, and certain moisturizers help. If none of these have worked for you, a biologic drug may be the next step.
Biologics work by blocking reactions in the body that cause psoriasis and its symptoms, most of which concern the immune system. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests taking a biologic agent if the psoriasis is moderate-to severe and hasn’t improved with traditional treatments. Biologics are also recommended for patients whose psoriasis is very bothersome, who prefer to take fewer doses, and who experience side effects with traditional psoriasis therapy.
Biologics are very safe for most patients, but there are a few risks and limitations. Active infections, compromised immune systems, recent live vaccination, and pregnancies will prevent patients from receiving this treatment. There are currently 11 biologics on the market used to treat psoriasis, but patients will need to work with their insurance companies to figure out which are covered under their plan. These treatments are very effective at relieving psoriasis symptoms, but they can cost tens of thousands of dollars each year without insurance coverage. At Zel Skin and Laser Specialists, one of our dermatologists will also help you decide which treatment will work best for your situation.
Biologics Treatment for Eczema
Like psoriasis, eczema is an immune-related condition characterized by patches of itchy, red skin. As a result, biologics can be an effective symptom mitigator for eczema. The targeted therapy can react to a very specific point of the body’s immune system response, finding and blocking the proteins that may trigger the overactive inflammatory response that occurs in eczema patients.
Researchers are studying biologic drugs that target individual spots along the immune pathway. When it comes to eczema, though, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Dupixent (dupilumab) for adults with moderate to severe cases of atopic dermatitis. More medications are likely on the way, but eczema research is still in an early stage.
Biologics and Skin Cancer
If you’ve heard of biologics in medical dermatology, you might have read that these drugs increase an individual’s likelihood of developing cancer. This is mostly myth: Several years ago, early research found that certain drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis increased an individual’s likelihood of developing cancer. Several recent studies show that this is not the case. Rheumatoid arthritis itself increases an individual’s chance of developing cancer, and when scientists looked into whether the drugs themselves played a role in this increased risk, they found that the chronic inflammation, not the medication, was likely to blame.
Some recent studies have shown that biologics may slightly increase an individual’s chance of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer, but the odds of developing other skin cancers do not change. As always, talk to one of our dermatologists about the risks associated with any treatment.
Contact Zel Skin and Laser Treatments to learn more about the best available skin treatments for these and other dermatological conditions.