Answers to Common Questions About Biologics

When you have psoriasis and feel frustrated by stubborn plaques, it might be time to discuss more aggressive treatment. Unlike other treatments, biologics help clear your skin by zeroing in on the immune system malfunction behind your flares. And if you have psoriatic arthritis, a biologic can calm your skin and help keep joint damage in check. To learn more, read on.

1 | What are biologics?

A biologic response modifier, or biologic, is a protein-based drug made from living cells cultured in a laboratory. Biologics inactivate the inflammatory molecules that are the culprits behind your skin lesions and, in the case of psoriatic arthritis, joint damage. Some biologics are more targeted than others, and whether you may benefit from a more targeted or less targeted medication varies from patient to patient.

2 | How do I know if I’m a candidate?

Whether you have psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis, take a moment to think about your current regimen and how well it’s working for you. For example, is your skin clear or do you have significant patches? Or maybe you have just a few stubborn plaques — but they’re enough to make you feel self-conscious and cause you to say no to activities you normally enjoy. If you have psoriatic arthritis, are the pain and stiffness getting worse? Are your joints swollen and tender? Is the fatigue so bad you find yourself turning down invitations? Discussing concerns like these with your doctor can help determine whether biologics may be the next step for you. Note: People with compromised immune systems or those with infections, such as tuberculosis or fungal infections, may not be able to take a biologic.

3 | How are biologics administered?

Some biologics are self-injected, while others are given by infusion. If you are squeamish about giving yourself an injection, tell your doctor. He or she may arrange for a nurse to do it.

4 | What about side effects?

Luckily, they tend to be mild. The most common is pain and rash at the injection site, which occurs in fewer than 30% of patients. During an infusion, you’ll be monitored for signs of an allergic reaction — e.g., fever, chills, nausea and headache. “Biologics have been on the market a long time and have a good safety record,” says Francisco Tausk, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Also: The longer a medication has been in use, the more that’s known about managing potential side effects.

5 | How long will it take to see results?

“It varies among biologics,” says Dr. Tausk. “Some are faster than others. However, results are usually seen between four and six weeks.” Of course, some people may find it can take several months to get the full benefits. In clinical trials, about half of those beginning biologics experienced a 75% improvement in psoriasis symptoms within three months.

6 | Can I get help covering the cost?

Biologics are usually covered by health insurance. However, if you owe a co-pay, check with the pharmaceutical company that makes your biologic — many offer co-pay and other financial assistance programs. If you need help, ask the staff at your doctor’s office.