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Drug Is Found Effective for Psoriasis

July 30, 2001|Times Staff and Wire Reports

An experimental drug may provide effective therapy against psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disorder that affects up to 2% of the population and for which there is no outright cure.

A team headed by Dr. Richard D. Granstein of Cornell University administered the drug to 229 psoriasis patients who had failed to respond to standard treatments. They reported in the July 26 New England Journal of Medicine that those given the highest doses of the drug showed a 50% reduction in symptoms. Psoriasis vanished in a quarter of the patients. "I think it's really exciting," Granstein said, adding that it is one of several psoriasis drugs in testing that are "opening up a whole new approach to treatment" of autoimmune diseases. The research was sponsored by Biogen, the manufacturer of alefacept, and the company expects to seek federal approval for the drug later this year.

Later testing, which is still unpublished, reinforces evidence that the drug is generally safe and effective for some patients, said New York University dermatologist Dr. Mark Lebwohl, who took part in those experiments.

About 2% of people suffer from red patches, silvery scales or other symptoms of psoriasis. It is usually mild but persists for a long time. Conventional treatments include exposure to ultraviolet light or sunlight, and powerful immunosuppressive drugs that can damage the liver or kidneys.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday August 6, 2001 Home Edition Health Part S Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Psoriasis study--Another story in the July 30 section misidentified the lead researchers of a clinical study of a drug that may help treat psoriasis. The chief researchers were Dr. Charles Ellis of the University of Michigan and Dr. Gerald Krueger of the University of Utah. Dr. Richard D. Granstein of Cornell University's Weill Medical College, who was incorrectly identified as head of the research team, wrote an editorial about the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The disease is thought to occur when immune cells called memory effector T cells attack skin, triggering inflammation. The researchers used alefacept, which targets memory effector T cells while leaving other portions of the immune system intact.

"We're just going after the specific cells that we're most interested in stopping," said Dr. Charles Ellis, a University of Michigan dermatologist who co-wrote the New England Journal report on the drug.

His team tested it on 229 psoriasis patients, at 22 health centers, who had failed to respond to standard drugs. Those given the biggest injections improved an average of about 50% in their symptoms. The psoriasis vanished or nearly did so in a quarter of the patients.

People did not need more treatment for an average of 10 months, a longer time than with other therapies.

The researchers found no serious side effects.

The later tests on more than 1,000 patients arrived at similar findings, Lebwohl said. Almost three quarters of the patients improved by 50% or more, and many were left with little or no psoriasis, he said. He predicted the drug will replace other treatment for some patients.

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