What Every Psoriasis Patient Should Know About Biologics

Medically Reviewed

What are biologics?

Biologics are medications given by pill, injection or by intravenous infusion (IV). They are specifically designed to mimic human molecules and act in certain ways to correct something going wrong in the body.

How are they different from traditional systemic drugs?

Unlike systemic drugs that affect the entire immune system, biologics target specific parts of the immune system. The biologics used to treat psoriasis block the action of a specific type of immune cell called a T cell, or block proteins in the immune system, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin 17-A, or interleukins 12 and 23. These cells and proteins all play a major role in developing psoriasis.

What are the risks?

Anyone considering a biologic drug should, of course, speak with her doctor. Biologics can increase the risk of infection. Individuals who develop any sign of an infection such as a fever, cough or flu-like symptoms or have any cuts or open sores should contact their doctor right away. You should not take a biologic if you have a significantly compromised immune system, or if you have an active infection.

How do you know if a biologic is right for you?

Biologics aren’t for everyone. It’s important for your doctor to consider how well you respond to other forms of treatment, how much psoriasis affects your quality of life, and the risks of taking a biologic. It’s also important to consider your personal health. Biologics might not be best for people with a history of cancer, infection, or a weakened immune system.

How can I tell if biologics are working?

You might not see immediate results, but you should definitely see noticeable changes in your skin in a few weeks or months. Talk to your doctor to establish a timeline based on your specific case.

How is this treatment monitored?

Before your doctor gives you the “OK” to start with biologics, she will most likely screen you for tuberculosis and hepatitis. You will also need to take a blood test every few months to make sure your liver function and blood count are normal.

Do insurance companies cover biologic treatments?

Biologics are very expensive and so your insurance company will likely want your doctor to try other less expensive treatments first. If those treatments don’t work, then your insurance company likely will cover the cost of a biologic.

What are some examples of biologic drugs?

The market of biologic drugs includes adalimumab, etanercept, golimumab, infliximab, and ustekinumab.

How bad does my psoriasis need to be to begin using a biologic?

Biologic drugs are often prescribed for people with moderate-to-severe psoriasis. Moderate psoriasis means that three to 10 percent of your body is covered in psoriasis and severe psoriasis means that more than 10 percent of your body is covered.