New drug options revealed at rheumatology conference

| Steve Bieler

Every year, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) holds a meeting of rheumatology professionals from around the world. In November 2016, almost 17,000 rheumatologists gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk shop and learn about the latest research and treatments.  

At this high-profile event, pharmaceutical companies often release findings on the drugs they’re testing in clinical trials. Here’s a brief look at four drugs that are being tested for their safety and effectiveness in treating psoriatic arthritis.

All of the trials used ACR criteria to measure their results. For example, if 50 percent of the participants in a particular study achieved ACR20, that means they saw a 20 percent improvement in their condition. (This includes improvement in tender or swollen joints, pain, overall function, doctor’s assessment, etc.)

Orencia (abatacept)

Orencia is a biologic developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Biologics, given by injection or intravenous infusion, are designed to keep a lid on overactive cytokines, or proteins, that stimulate an unwanted immune response that results in inflammation.

Orencia is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and is now being tested for psoriatic arthritis. It’s designed to stop T cells, a kind of immune cell, from sabotaging your immune system.

Results of a phase 3 study testing Orencia for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis were presented at ACR.

According to an abstract from the ACR meeting, after 24 weeks, about 39 percent of the patients who had been taking Orencia achieved ACR20. About 22 percent of people on the placebo achieved ACR20 in the same amount of time.  

The report noted that “the safety profile of [Orencia] was similar to the placebo, with no new safety signals.”

Xeljanz (tofacitinib)

Xeljanz is taken in pill form. It targets a cellular pathway that’s been linked to inflammation. Xeljanz, which was developed by Pfizer, is FDA-approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It also goes by the name Jakvinus.

Xeljanz is being tested for safety and effectiveness in the treatment of psoriatic arthritis.

Results from a phase 3 trial testing two groups of patients taking different dosages of Xeljanz against groups taking a placebo and the biologic Humira (adalimumab) were shared in an abstract at the ACR meeting.

According to the abstract, at the end of three months, up to 63 percent of the group taking Xeljanz achieved ACR20. Among patients taking Humira, 55 percent achieved ACR20 after three months, while 35 percent of patients on the placebo achieved ACR20 in the same amount of time.

The most common adverse events reported in the study (measured over 12 months) were upper respiratory tract infections, nasopharyngitis (the common cold) and headache.

Cosentyx (secukinumab)

Cosentyx, a biologic made by Novartis, targets a protein called interleukin (IL)-17, which contributes to inflammation in psoriatic disease. Cosentyx is currently FDA-approved for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

At the ACR meeting, results were presented from a phase 3 trial testing Cosentyx as a treatment for psoriatic arthritis over three years. Participants who received Cosentyx were divided into two groups with two different dosages. Of the people who received the higher dosage, almost 77 percent achieved ACR20, according to an abstract presented in the meeting.

Previous studies of Cosentyx have included headache, upper respiratory tract infection, cold and diarrhea as reported side effects.


Guselkumab is a biologic developed by Janssen that targets the protein IL-23, another protein involved in inflammation. Janssen presented results from its phase 2 clinical trial at ACR. According to a statement from Janssen, at week 24, 58 percent of patients receiving guselkumab achieved ACR20, compared with about 18 percent of patients on a placebo.

About a third of the patients receiving guselkumab or the placebo reported side effects, most commonly infections, according to the statement.

Further reading on clinical trials

While these drugs have shown promise, they are still a long way from hitting the market. If and when they do, they might not be right for you.

Would you like to participate in a clinical trial? Consult the links below for more information, or contact NPF’s Patient Navigation Center.

Todd Bello, “How clinical trials helped me”

Dr. Tell Me with Dr. Jennifer Cather, “What to expect from a clinical trial”


Driving discovery, creating community

For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.

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