People with psoriasis can soon find relief from a drug that completely eliminated the itchy skin disease in nearly two-thirds of the users during trials.
Doctors say bimekizumab is “outperforming all other treatments” and they hope it will be available via the NHS within a year.
Psoriasis causes red, scaly, itchy patches of skin, and at its most extreme it can cover every part of the body, with many of its sufferers scratching to the point of bleeding.
Libby Coyle, right, from Manchester, pictured with her friend Payton Parker, is in a clinical trial to test the efficacy of the new psoriasis treatment bimikizumab.
Psoriasis is a skin condition that affects more than 2% of British people and usually develops in early adulthood
It affects more than 2 percent of British people and usually develops in early adulthood. While the cause is not completely understood, it occurs when the body overproduces skin cells, which accumulate, and are believed to be caused by problems with the immune system. Many patients treat their symptoms with creams containing anti-inflammatory steroids, but they are not currently treatable and return a lifetime.
The patches, often described as crusts, usually form on the arms and legs, but for those with severe psoriasis, they can cover up to 90 percent of the body.
Professor Richard Warren, a consultant dermatologist at the Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and a lead investigator on the bimekizumab trial, says the lives of those most affected can be unbearable.
“There is a huge misconception that skin diseases do not have a major impact on life. Psoriasis is a disfiguring disease – it affects every part of your life, from relationships to work. Often people with severe stress avoid situations where they have to undress, such as swimming pools. Many of them are unable to maintain relationships because psoriasis affects their genitals.
Those who are unable to control their psoriasis with steroid creams are usually offered medications such as secukinumab and adalimumab. These drugs work by reducing the immune system’s production of proteins thought to cause inflammation.
Bimekizumab is the first treatment of its kind that targets specific immune system proteins – called Interleukin 17A and Interleukin 17F. The results of one of the most recent experiments, published by the University of Manchester last week, are said to have exceeded expectations.
Patients were given an injection every four weeks. By the fourth week, nearly three-quarters of patients began to see their condition improve. Amazingly, by week 16, more than 60 percent had reached a “complete skin removal,” which means there are no spots anywhere on the body.
In a separate trial, also published last week, more than 86 percent of patients taking the new drug achieved near-complete clearance of their skin compared to less than 50 percent on adalimumab. “It’s the fastest psoriasis drug we’ve ever seen,” says Professor Warren of the University of Manchester.
Bimekizumab is expected to be offered to patients with moderate to severe psoriasis who have not responded to other treatments. This means that more than 200,000 Britons could benefit from its approval by the regulators. But the drug is not without its side effects – ten percent of patients developed a thrush infection, especially in the mouth.
However, Professor Warren says the majority of these were easily treated with other drugs.
One patient who has benefited from the treatment is Libby Cowell, a 24-year-old trained attorney from Manchester. Libby first developed psoriasis when she began training as a lawyer at the age of 18.
“ I started having itchy patches on my scalp, ” she says. Then it spread down my neck. After a year, it was completely covering my body.
Libby says the psoriasis was “incredibly painful” but it also affected her self-esteem. None of the usual treatments worked, but in February 2018 Libby was put on a trial with bimikizumab and results began to show within weeks. ‘By the third week, the scales were dropping, and by about the eighth week, the redness was remaining. Having lived with this for so long, I almost couldn’t understand it was gone.
“ For the first time since I was 18, I can apply cosmetics and skin care products without worrying that they might cause irritation. You do not realize at that time the amount of physical and mental burden.
Libby is part of a five-year experiment looking at its long-term effects. Professor Warren says: “ We haven’t fully understood how to stop psoriasis permanently, so this is not a cure. But for now, this is the best treatment we’ve had. Hopefully, this gets NHS approval within the next 12 to 24 months.