Psoriasis: A look back over the past 50 years, and forward to next steps


Imagine a patient suffering with horrible psoriasis for decades having failed “every available treatment.” Imagine him living all that time with “flaking, cracking, painful, itchy skin,” only to develop cirrhosis after exposure to toxic therapies.

Joel Gelfand, MD,  a professor, and director of the Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadlphia.

Dr. Joel Gelfand

Then imagine the experience for that patient when, 2 weeks after initiating treatment with a new interleukin-17 inhibitor, his skin clears completely.

“Two weeks later it’s all gone – it was a moment to behold,” said Joel M. Gelfand, MD, professor of dermatology and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, who had cared for the man for many years before a psoriasis treatment revolution of sorts took the field of dermatology by storm.

“The progress has been breathtaking – there’s no other way to describe it – and it feels like a miracle every time I see a new patient who has tough disease and I have all these things to offer them,” he continued. “For most patients, I can really help them and make a major difference in their life.”

Much of the progress in psoriasis treatment in the past 50 years unfolded over the past 2 decades, with biologics emerging for psoriasis, said Mark Lebwohl, MD, Waldman professor of dermatology and chair of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman department of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

Dr. Mark Lebwohl with a patient.

Dr. Lebwohl recounted some of his own experiences with psoriasis patients before the advent of treatments – particularly biologics – that have transformed practice.

There was a time when psoriasis patients had little more to turn to than the effective – but “disgusting” – Goeckerman Regimen involving cycles of UVB light exposure and topical crude coal tar application. Initially, the regimen, which was introduced in the 1920s, was used around the clock on an inpatient basis until the skin cleared, Dr. Lebwohl said.

In the 1970s, the immunosuppressive chemotherapy drug methotrexate became the first oral systemic therapy approved for severe psoriasis. For those with disabling disease, it offered some hope for relief, but only about 40% of patients achieved at least a 75% reduction in the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index score (PASI 75), he said, adding that they did so at the expense of the liver and bone marrow. “But it was the only thing we had for severe psoriasis other than light treatments.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, oral retinoids emerged as a treatment for psoriasis, and the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine used to prevent organ rejection in some transplant patients was found to clear psoriasis in affected transplant recipients. Although they brought relief to some patients with severe, disabling disease, these also came with a high price. “It’s not that effective, and it has lots of side effects ... and causes kidney damage in essentially 100% of patients,” Dr. Lebwohl said of cyclosporine.

“So we had treatments that worked, but because the side effects were sufficiently severe, a lot of patients were not treated,” he said.


Next Article: