Most of the time our immune system protects us from invaders from outside of our body, whether they may be in the form of a virus, bacteria, fungus, or even a tumor. In the worst case scenario, a "glitch" causes the immune system to overreact. A damaged and confused immune system attacks healthy organs or tissues resulting in an autoimmune disorder such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Suppressing the immune system is a means of controlling an autoimmune disease, but the consequences of doing so (the risk of life-threatening infection) makes this an obviously unreasonable regimen. In seeking answers to this dilemma, scientists developed Monoclonal Antibody Immunotherapy. In this therapy, antibodies created outside the body are given as an injection or intravenous drug. Some monoclonal antibody infusions are used in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat certain types of cancer. In recent years, monoclonal antibodies targeted at major autoimmune illness have been introduced to treat conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Plaque Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or Ankylosing Spondylitis.
Hospitalization is not required for infusion of most monoclonal antibodies. Two of the major autoimmune therapies, bi-monthly Remicade and monthly Tysabri, are given by intravenous drip in closely monitored outpatient settings such as infusion clinics or doctor's office. Humira, a (sometimes weekly) subcutaneous injection, is given in an outpatient setting or is self-administered by the patient at home.
Patient Resources for Monoclonal Antibody Therapies
It's important to understand that although these drugs often work well in controlling the symptoms of specific autoimmune disorders, there are definitely risks that must be considered. In an effort to educate and provide support to their patients, the manufacturers of Remicade, Humira, and Tysabri have developed websites for their benefit.
- Support for Remicade Patients. Remicade (generic name is infliximab) is a chimeric monoclonal antibody derived from the combination of human and murine (mouse) sources. This drug may be used to treat Plaque Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Ankylosing Spondylitis.
- "My Humira:" Patient Support and Information. Humira (Adalimumab) is a completely human monoclonal antibody that, like Remicade, may be used to treat Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's Disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Plaque Psoriasis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Tysabri Patient Portal. Tysabri (Natalizumab) is a humanized monoclonal antibody that is used to treat Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn's Disease.
Carefully read the patient information regarding these drugs and heed the warnings given in order to avoid serious, life-threatening complications. Knowing what to expect from your treatment and what symptoms to promptly report to your physician is essential in ensuring good results with these medications.
I've had experience administering each of these medications in an infusion center where I worked. It was pleasing to see real improvement and enhanced quality of life in many patients. Each of these drugs is certainly capable of producing (usually mild) allergic-type reactions during administration. Each of these drugs also carries the risk of developing other complications. Please don't disregard the brochures and patient information handouts you receive regarding these (or any) medications.
Want to Read More? I found this interesting:
Peakman, M. & Daylan, C.M. (2001). Antigen-specific immunotherapy for autoimmune disease: fighting fire with fire?. Immunology, December; 104(4): 361–366.
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