A revolutionary new treatment for the painful skin condition psoriasis is now available on the NHS.
Stelara, which is injected into the skin five times a year at home by the patient, has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to treat patients who suffer from severe forms of the disease.
Symptoms of psoriasis include painful, itchy, red or inflamed skin covered with silvery scales which are prone to cracking and bleeding.
About 1.5 million people in the UK are affected, and an estimated 450,000 of those suffer so extensively that there is significant physical and psychological damage. Psoriasis is believed to be caused by the immune system behaving as though it is under attack and overproducing skin cells on the surface of the body.
Stelara works by blocking two proteins believed to play an important role in the development of psoriasis, changing the way the immune system works.
It is part of a class of drug known as biologics. Unlike other drugs – which are created by combining chemicals – they are made from living human or animal proteins.
There are other biologics for the treatment of psoriasis – Enbrel, Humira, and Remicade – which work by blocking chemical ‘messengers’ in the immune system that signal other cells to cause inflammation.
But Enbrel requires two injections a week, Humira one jab every other week – both of which can be done at home – while Remicade has to be administered in hospital three times over two-hour periods, and then repeated every eight weeks after that.
A third of patients fail to respond to standard creams and ointments, and often have to take daily tablets such as Methotrexate, also used in chemotherapy, or Ciclosporin, originally developed for the prevention of organ rejection after transplant.
Chris Griffiths, Professor of Dermatology at the University of Manchester, says: ‘Stelara is a breakthrough in the treatment of psoriasis. It is fantastically effective and there are only minor side effects, such as respiratory infections, coughs and headaches.
‘The improvement can be sustained for up to a year with just five doses a year, allowing patients to get on with their lives.’
Patients will qualify for Stelara only if their psoriasis affects their quality of life and does not improve with standard treatments. It can only be prescribed by a dermatologist.