Psoriasis affects more than 6 million Americans. It's a chronic disease that forces the immune system into overdrive, causing skin cells to multiple too rapidly.
For the past 10 years, Beverly Chevere has watched her once-clear skin transform into patches of red silvery scales on her knees, hands, elbows and even ankles.
A recent survey found 80% of psoriasis patients are unhappy with current treatments, which include ultraviolet light, expensive lasers, creams, and oral drugs, which can have toxic side effects.
"I have tried all sorts of medication," she says. "They have put me on, I think, every cream possible."
And the emotional impact is considerable: Researchers say as many as one-in-four psoriasis sufferers, frustrated by constant itching, pain, and the vicious cycle of the disease, has considered suicide: The disease flares up, the patient takes more medicine and notices some improvement, but has a relapse weeks later.
"I felt depressed about it," Chevere says. "I was embarrassed."
However, in a study of the new drug Amevive, which was tested on 1,100 patients, many saw long-lasting improvement. A majority saw symptoms reduced by half and a third saw a 75% improvement.
Doctors say the drug carries no major side effects. The biggest problems are headaches, minor infection, and bruising at the site of the IV.
Researcher Dr. Mark Lebwohl of Mount Sinai Hospital says the effects lasted much longer than with conventional treatment.
"We've had patients show clearing for as long as 18 months," he says. "The average time is 10 months."
Last year, Beverly Chevere enrolled in a phase III clinical trial using the drug, which is manufactured by Biogen and generically known as alefacept.
For 6 months, she received weekly intravenous infusions of Amevive--and gradually, her skin cleared.
Nine months later, Chevere ended treatment. She had clear skin for 7 months, but in June she began noticing the return of her psoriasis on her elbows.
While she's grateful for months of remission, she is worried she will not be able to get more IV treatments before she has major flare-up. Not all patients had remissions for that long.
"I feel like I could be depressed again, just watching this come about," she says. She is anxiously awaiting another phase of the trial.
The drug is not yet approved by the FDA, but could be by early next year.
"My body responded well to it," she enthuses. "I was thrilled. I was really thrilled. I haven't felt that happy in a very long time."
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