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The Pros and Cons of Biologic Therapies for Psoriasis

Learn about the benefits and risks of these powerful treatments for moderate-to-severe psoriasis.

Medically reviewed in December 2020

If you’re one of the millions of Americans living with moderate-to-severe psoriasis, you may feel like you’ll never get relief from the itchy, painful, uncomfortable symptoms. But even though there isn’t a cure for this chronic inflammatory disease, there are treatments available. Here’s what you need to know about biologic therapies (also called biologics), systemic therapies used to treat moderate-to-severe psoriasis.

What are biologic therapies?
Biologic therapies are protein-based drugs made from living cells. They have been used for more than 100 years in various forms (vaccines and insulin are two examples), but the first biologics approved for treating psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are much newer—they've been around for less than two decades. In psoriasis, abnormal immune system activity promotes inflammation in the skin that causes psoriasis symptoms to occur. Unlike some other psoriasis treatments that suppress the immune system as a whole, biologics directly target specific cells or proteins involved in this inflammatory process. Healthcare providers typically recommend biologics after other treatments have failed.

Biologics are either given as an injection into the leg, arm or abdomen, or by infusion. How often you receive a dose depends on the biologic you are prescribed.

Each drug has various pros and cons. Your healthcare provider can help you find the choice that is right for you. 

The drawbacks of biologics
While biologics are some of the most effective treatments available for moderate-to-severe psoriasis, these drugs also have their drawbacks. For one, they can be expensive, and some insurance companies may not cover the full cost of treatment. Another drawback is that, like most medications, there is a risk of side effects. 

Biologics can increase your risk of infections, and you may not be able to take certain biologics if your immune system is compromised, if you take other medications that affect your immune system, or if you have certain illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or hepatitis B. While biologics are generally safe and well tolerated, they can increase a person's risk of nervous system disorders, blood disorders and some types of cancer. If you notice any side effects while taking biologics, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Oral medications
Biologics are not the only recent developments in systemic treatment option for psoriasis. Another example is a category of medicine known as small-molecule drugs. Like biologics, they target specific mechanisms in the immune system and reduce inflammation. They are taken as a pill instead of a shot or IV.

Future treatments
We don’t know what the next decade will have in store for psoriasis treatment. But more and more medications reach the end of their clinical trials phase, people with psoriasis will have even more options to choose from.

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