Biologic Drugs-What are they?

John M. James, MD

By: John M. James, MD

Have you heard the term “biologics” as they pertain to the management of allergies and asthma? What is a biologic? Are they just like any other medications? If your doctor prescribes a biologic medication and not a more typical drug, such as an antihistamine or nasal steroid, what is the difference?

Biologics Overview

Many people are confused about biologic medications. Over the past several years, more and more biologics have been approved for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. More recently, biologics are now being used in allergic disorders such as asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema) and chronic sinus disease.

A biologic medication is a product made from a living organism that contains components of that organism. It consists of proteins and chemical ingredients in a specific combination. Typically, biologics are injected medications and not taken orally as opposed to other drugs. Most biologics are relatively new, but insulin, used to treat diabetes, has been around for decades and is considered a biologic since it is produced in animals.

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Biologics as Treatments

Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of biologics available to treat many chronic conditions. Biologics are typically much more expensive than more traditional medications due to the complex manufacturing processes required to produce a biologic medication.

Biologic medications can be used in the treatment of more severe asthma, which cannot be controlled with typical asthma therapies (e.g. inhaled steroids) or requires frequent use of oral steroids. They can decrease the rate of asthma flare-ups and improve a patient’s quality of life. They do not cure asthma but can lead to better control. Currently, there are five biologics approved for asthma These include: Xolair, Nucala, Fasenra, Cinqair and Dupixent.

Patients with chronic eczema or atopic dermatitis can also benefit from a biologic medication. This skin condition is usually treated with different topical creams and ointments. Dupixent is a biologic medication that can be used in patients over 6 years of age with difficult to manage and chronic eczema. This medication can significantly improve chronic eczema in these patients.

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Dupixent has recently been approved to treat chronic sinus disease with nasal polyps, which can block sinus openings and can lead to severe nasal congestion and loss of smell.

Biologic medications have provided new and effective treatment of certain chronic allergies and asthma. Talk to your allergist to see if you are a candidate for one of these new therapies.