Psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes the skin cells to grow too quickly resulting in itchy and painful patches on the skin, affects about 7.5 million people in the U.S. Of these, about 80 percent suffer from plaque psoriasis, which is characterized by raised, red patches covered with dead skin cells or scales that often appear on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp.

Despite the prevalence of psoriasis and the fact that the disease is not contagious, which means it cannot be contracted by touching a person who has it, individuals with the condition are often embarrassed to expose parts of their body that exhibit their skin problem. An experimental drug, however, could bring hope to millions of Psoriasis sufferers as it showed promising efficacy in clinical trials.

For the two phase III clinical trials of the drug secukinumab, which were sponsored by the drug's producer Novartis Pharmaceuticals and described in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 9, results showed that the drug holds potential as treatment for people with moderate and severe plaque psoriasis.

"Secukinumab was effective for psoriasis in two randomized trials, validating interleukin-17A as a therapeutic target," the researchers concluded.

In one of the trials, investigators randomly gave 738 psoriasis patients 300 milligrams of secukinumab, 150 milligrams of secukinumab, or placebo. Within 12 weeks, four of every five patients who received the higher dose of the injectable drug secukinumab had 75 percent improvement in their symptoms while only one per 20 of the subjects who received placebo did. Fifty-nine percent of the subjects who received 300 mg of the drug also reported 90 percent improvement in their psoriasis symptoms and over 28 percent reported that their psoriasis has completely cleared up.

In another study involving 1,306 psoriasis patients, 77 percent of the patients who received the 300 mg of secukinumab had 75 percent improvement in their symptoms within 12 weeks. Of those who received etanercept (Enbrel), one of the top psoriasis treatments, on the other hand, only 44 percent experienced improvements while only 5 percent of those who received placebo did.

About 54 percent of the patients who received secukinumab also reported 90 percent improvement, which is far higher with 20 percent in patients who received Enbrel. One in four secukinumab patients also said that their psoriasis completely cleared up compared with only one in 20 who used Enbrel.

"Over a quarter of patients have not a dot of psoriasis left," study author Mark Lebwohl, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told HealthDay.

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