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A snapshot of biologic medicines at work

While advances in disease management and complex drug manufacturing are being made every day, there are a number of harmful diseases and conditions that scientists are still working to find ways to manage and ultimately cure.

The availability of biologics in 2002 changed the way we manage inflammatory conditions. – Dr. Denis Choquette, Rheumatologist

Cutting-edge technology and research is now allowing scientists to discover more about how and why diseases occur. This is certainly important for autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis, which involve the body internally-attacking or harming itself.

In rheumatoid arthritis, for example, the immune system mistakenly sees joints as a problem and starts to try to “fix” them. This miscommunication within the body leads to symptoms of swelling, inflammation and severe joint pain. These symptoms reduce a patients’ quality of life and can severely hinder their ability to carry out everyday activities.

Biologic medicines — large, complex, protein-based molecules derived from living organisms — may be able to interrupt this miscommunication when introduced into the body. According to Dr. Denis Choquette, Rheumatologist and Professor of Medicine from the University of Montreal, “biologic therapies bind specifically to molecules involved in the inflammatory process.” He adds that “the availability of biologics in 2002 changed the way we manage inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.”

Like all medicines, biologics come with both benefits and risks. Documented benefits in rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, can include efficacy in inhibiting the progression of structural damage as well as in improving physical function. Potential adverse reactions among those with the disease can range from injection site reactions, to serious infections such as sepsis, tuberculosis, invasive fungal and other opportunistic infection, among others. 

Biologics have contributed to the treatment of other diseases too, such as cancer, rare blood disorders, osteoporosis, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. The risks and benefits of treatment with biologics should always be considered prior to initiating therapy. Consult your physician for information about whether biologic medicines are right for you.

For information about how biologic medicines get their start, check out Creating Biologics: Genetically Engineering a Cell.

After reading this story, do you understand more about biologic medicines?