Considerations During Active Therapy
In addition to monitoring adherence and response to regimens, dermatologists must be heavily involved in counseling patients regarding the risks and adverse effects associated with these therapies. During maintenance therapy with biologics, patients must follow up with the prescriber at minimum every 3 to 6 months to evaluate for continued efficacy of treatment, extent of side effects, and effects of treatment on overall health and quality of life. Given the immunosuppressive effects of biologics, annual testing for tuberculosis should be considered in high-risk individuals. In those who are considered at low risk, tuberculosis testing may be done at the discretion of the dermatologist. In those with a history of HBV infection, HBV serologies should be pursued routinely given the risk for reactivation.
Annual screening for nonmelanoma skin cancer should be performed in all patients taking biologics. Tumor necrosis factor α inhibitor therapy in particular confers an elevated risk for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, especially in patients who are immunosuppressed at baseline and those with history of UV phototherapy. Use of acitretin alongside TNF-α inhibitors or ustekinumab may prevent squamous cell carcinoma formation in high-risk patients.
Because infliximab treatment poses an elevated risk of liver injury,11 liver function tests should be repeated 3 months following initiation of treatment and then every 6 to 12 months subsequently if results are normal. Periodic assessment of suicidal ideation is recommended in patients on brodalumab therapy, which may necessitate more frequent follow-up visits and potentially psychiatry referrals in certain patients. Patients taking IL-17 inhibitors, particularly those who are concurrently taking methotrexate, are at increased risk for developing mucocutaneous Candida infections; these patients should be monitored for such infections and treated appropriately.12
It is additionally important for prescribing dermatologists to ensure that patients on biologics are following up with their general providers to receive timely age-appropriate preventative screenings and vaccines. Inactivated vaccinations may be administered during therapy with any biologic; however, live vaccinations may induce systemic infection in those who are immunocompromised, which theoretically includes individuals taking biologic agents, though incidence data in this patient population are scarce.13 Some experts believe that administration of live vaccines warrants temporary discontinuation of biologic therapy for 2 to 3 half-lives before and after vaccination (Table). Others recommend stopping treatment at least 4 weeks before and until 2 weeks after vaccination. For patients taking biologics with half-lives greater than 20 days, which would theoretically require stopping the drug 2 months prior to vaccination, the benefit of vaccination should be weighed against the risk of prolonged discontinuation of therapy. Until recently, this recommendation was particularly important, as a live herpes zoster vaccination was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for adults older than 60 years. In 2017, a new inactivated herpes zoster vaccine was introduced and is now the preferred vaccine for all patients older than 50 years.14 It is especially important that patients on biologics receive this vaccine to avoid temporary drug discontinuation.
Evidence that any particular class of biologics increases risk for solid tumors or lymphoreticular malignancy is limited. One case-control analysis reported that more than 12 months of treatment with TNF-α inhibitors may increase risk for malignancy; however, the confidence interval reported hardly allows for statistical significance.15 Another retrospective cohort study found no elevated incidence of cancer in patients on TNF-α inhibitors compared to nonbiologic comparators.16 Ustekinumab was shown to confer no increased risk for malignancy in 1 large study,15 but no large studies have been conducted for other classes of drugs. Given the limited and inconclusive evidence available, the guidelines recommend that age-appropriate cancer screenings recommended for the general population should be pursued in patients taking biologics.
Surgery while taking biologics may lead to stress-induced augmentation of immunosuppression, resulting in elevated risk of infection.17 Low-risk surgeries that do not warrant discontinuation of treatment include endoscopic, ophthalmologic, dermatologic, orthopedic, and breast procedures. In patients preparing for elective surgery in which respiratory, gastrointestinal, or genitourinary tracts will be entered, biologics may be discontinued at least 3 half-lives (Table) prior to surgery if the dermatologist and surgeon collaboratively deem that risk of infection outweighs benefit of continued therapy.18 Therapy may be resumed within 1 to 2 weeks postoperatively if there are no surgical complications.
Changing therapy to another biologic should be considered if there is no response to treatment or the patient experiences adverse effects while taking a particular biologic. Because evidence is limited regarding the ideal time frame between discontinuation of a prior medication and initiation of a new biologic, this interval should be determined at the discretion of the provider based on the patient’s disease severity and response to prior treatment. For individuals who experience primary or secondary treatment failure while maintaining appropriate dosing and treatment compliance, switching to a different biologic is recommended to maximize treatment response.19 Changing therapy to a biologic within the same class is generally effective,20 and switching to a biologic with another mechanism of action should be considered if a class-specific adverse effect is the major reason for altering the regimen. Nonetheless, some patients may be unresponsive to biologic changes. Further research is necessary to determine which biologics may be most effective when previously used biologics have failed and particular factors that may predispose patients to biologic unresponsiveness.
Resuming Biologic Treatment Following Cessation
In cases where therapy is discontinued for any reason, it may be necessary to repeat initiation dosing when resuming treatment. In patients with severe or flaring disease or if more than 3 to 4 half-lives have passed since the most recent dose, it may be necessary to restart therapy with the loading dose (Table). Unfortunately, restarting therapy may preclude some patients from experiencing the maximal response that they attained prior to cessation. In such cases, switching biologic therapy to a different class may prove beneficial.
These recommendations contain valuable information that will assist dermatologists when initiating biologics and managing outcomes of their psoriasis patients. It is, however, crucial to bear in mind that these guidelines serve as merely a tool. Given the paucity of comprehensive research, particularly regarding some of the more recently approved therapies, there are many questions that are unanswered within the guidelines. Their utility for each individual patient situation is therefore limited, and clinical judgement may outweigh the information presented. The recommendations nevertheless provide a pivotal and unprecedented framework that promotes discourse among patients, dermatologists, and other providers to optimize the efficacy of biologic therapy for psoriasis.