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Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2003. Updated by Chief Editor: Hon Assoc Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, February 2015.
Infliximab belongs to the class of biological response modifiers called tumour necrosis factor (TNF) blockers. The trade name for the original drug is Remicade®. Generic infliximab biosimilars are also marketed or are under development (including Remsima™, Inflectra™, Infliximab BS "NK").
Infliximab is currently approved in adults and children over the age of 6 years for the treatment of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis.
In one major study, infliximab very quickly and effectively controlled psoriasis and in about half of the patients, the disease stopped progressing further after just three doses of the medicine.
Infliximab is biologically engineered from human and mouse antibody molecules. It works by directly binding to tumour necrosis factor (TNF) in the blood and diseased tissue. Infliximab-bound TNF cannot bind to or activate TNF receptors, which are involved in the development of psoriatic plaques.
Infliximab is administered by intravenous infusion over 2 hours in a specialist centre. Patients receiving infliximab require close supervision and monitoring throughout treatment. It is repeated after 2 and 6 weeks. If effective, treatment may be repeated every 8 weeks.
Patients on infliximab are often also prescribed methotrexate, which helps to prevent the formation of anti-infliximab antibodies.
Infliximab should not be used under the following circumstances.
Caution must be taken when considering the use of infliximab in patients prone to infections or in those with chronic or recurrent infections.
Infliximab should also be used with caution in the following situations:
Patients who require major surgery may be advised to stop infliximab temporarily about 4 weeks prior to a planned operation. It can be started again 2 weeks after surgery providing no infection is present.
Immunisation status should be reviewed prior to starting infliximab. If necessary, vaccines should be updated prior to treatment. Annual influenza vaccination is recommended.
As they may induce illness in immunodeficient individuals, live vaccines should not be used during treatment with infliximab. Currently, available live attenuated viral vaccines include measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, yellow fever, influenza (intranasal vaccine) and the oral polio vaccine. Live attenuated bacterial vaccines include BCG and oral typhoid vaccine.
Infliximab is well tolerated in most people. If any of the following symptoms are severe or do not go away you should contact your doctor.
Acute infusion-related reactions include difficulty in breathing or swallowing, chest pain, swelling of face, lips, or hands, dizziness and headache, flushing, urticaria, and burning at the IV infusion site. These may be treated by reducing the rate of infusion and with paracetamol and antihistamines.
In a small number of patients, lupus-like symptoms and signs may occur. These include photosensitivity and joint and muscle pain (arthritis and arthralgias). Treatment should be stopped if these occur.
Severe cutaneous reactions have rarely been reported, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. Some patients have been reported to develop dermatitis, chronic plaque psoriasis, and palmoplantar pustulosis.
Like all medications that work on the immune system, infliximab may increase the risk of certain types of lymphoma. These have rarely been reported in patients on infliximab, usually in those also taking other medicines that suppress the immune system such as azathioprine or mercaptopurine. Skin cancers, in particular squamous cell carcinoma, have also been reported in patients on infliximab. These patients usually have other risk factors such as severe sun damage or previous treatment with photochemotherapy (PUVA).
Regular follow-up visits to monitor the safety and efficacy of treatment are necessary. It is recommended that patients on biologic medications have routine blood tests every 6 months or so, including full blood count and liver function tests. TB tests should be repeated from time to time.
If you are not based in New Zealand, we suggest you refer to your national drug approval agency for further information about medicines (eg, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the US Food and Drug Administration) or a national or state-approved formulary (eg, the New Zealand Formulary and New Zealand Formulary for Children and the British National Formulary and British National Formulary for Children).
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