TNF alpha inhibitors in the treatment of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis

Anne-Marie Tobin, Brian Kirby
BioDrugs: Clinical Immunotherapeutics, Biopharmaceuticals and Gene Therapy 2005, 19 (1): 47-57
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that can lead to significant physical and psychologic distress for patients. Psoriatic arthritis (PsA), originally thought to be quite a mild disorder, is now recognized as a progressive and destructive arthritis. To date, therapies for both these conditions have been non-specific and unable to maintain long-lasting remission. In addition, many of the current therapies have significant adverse effects, limiting their usefulness. However, elucidation of the pathogenesis of psoriasis and PsA at a molecular level and the development of selective biologic agents have led to an enormous expansion of the armamentarium available to psoriasis patients. Two agents (infliximab and etanercept) selectively block the role of the cytokine tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and have proved effective in clinical trials in the treatment of both the skin and the joint manifestations of psoriasis. A third anti-TNF alpha agent (adalimumab Humira) is licensed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; however, no studies have been published to date on its use in PsA or psoriasis. It is known that TNF alpha is elevated in both the skin and synovium of psoriatic patients and the effectiveness of its blockade by these two agents in psoriasis and PsA confirms its role in their pathogenesis. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have been performed with both agents in the treatment of psoriasis and PsA; in the case of etanercept these have been to support US FDA approval for use in psoriatic arthropathy. These studies are supported by smaller cohorts in open-label studies and anecdotal reports in the literature. Anti-TNF alpha therapy has proved to have disease-reducing activity in PsA and psoriasis and appears to be well tolerated. These studies have generally featured small numbers of patients and, until a larger cohort of treated patients is available, vigilance must be exercised. A considerable body of post-marketing safety data exists on the use of infliximab in rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn disease and for etanercept in rheumatoid arthritis and PsA. Certain issues, particularly the risk of infection, have emerged as features of the use of these agents. It remains to be seen whether effects seen in other disease entities may be extrapolated to psoriatic patients. More long-term data and experience are needed to define the role of anti-TNF alpha agents in the management of psoriasis and PsA. In particular, more studies are required to elucidate the finer points of co-medication; in some studies both agents have been used with other medications but there have been no formal trials of various possible combinations.

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