Biologic Drugs for Back Pain and Neck Pain

Advanced Treatments for Spinal Inflammatory Arthritis

Packing white capsules in a sorting machine in a pharmaceutical laboratoryBiologic drugs are a special, complex class of medications. Unlike typical drugs and medications that are made from chemicals, biologic drugs are derived from human and animal cells. Biologic drugs are effective for a variety of conditions, but this article will focus on biologics used for types of spinal inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.

Biologic drugs are often used if traditional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) prove ineffective. Biologics are actually a newer generation of DMARD. As such, your doctor may refer to them as biologic DMARDs.

These agents work by restoring the healthy function of your immune system. To do this, biologic drugs treat specific parts of your immune system using biological response modifiers (BRMs) created by the immune system. In the case of spinal inflammatory arthritis, biologics interfere with a protein in the immune system that causes inflammation.

BRMs are naturally released by your body in small amounts in response to disease. Biologic drugs essentially contain larger amounts of BRMs to provide your body with an extra line of defense.

Types of Biologic Drugs
Below are biologic drugs that may reduce symptoms associated with spinal inflammatory arthritis:

  • Etanercept (marketed as Enbrel)
  • Infliximab (Remicade)
  • Adalimumab (Humira)
  • Abatacept (Orencia)
  • Anakinra (Kineret)
  • Rituximab (Rituxan)

These medications can be used alone but are often taken in conjunction with traditional DMARDs to increase the benefits. However, biologics should not be used with other biologics.

Side Effects of Biologic Drugs
Biologics suppress your immune system, so you will be at a greater risk of developing an infection or disease if you are taking them.

On a similar note, the US Food and Drug Administration announced in the summer of 2009 that TNF-alpha inhibitors, a type of biologic drug, may increase the risk of some cancers, such as lymphoma, in children and young adults. To learn more, read more about how TNF blockers may boost kids' cancer risk.

Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, weakness, loss of appetite, and fever. Depending on the type of biologic you are taking, you may experience additional side effects. Since biologics are a newer class of medication, many of the long-term side effects aren't fully understood. That's why a doctor's supervision is essential when using a biologic drug, especially if you have an active infection, central nervous system disorder, or are exposed to tuberculosis.

Generic Versions of Biologic Drugs
Though many biologic drugs have only become recently available, others have been on the market for as long as 20 years. Even so, there are no generic versions of biologics currently available—and so they can be quite costly.

In August 2009, the US House committee voted to give brand-name biologic drug companies another 12 years without generic competition. The lack of generic biologic drugs has created a divide with brand-name pharmaceutical makers on one side and generic drug makers and consumer groups on the other.

Brand-name drug companies say that they need time to recover the costs associated with product development, but generic makers and patient advocates say the medications should be more affordable.

Despite their lack of generic counterparts, biologic drugs have provided pain relief for patients with spinal inflammatory arthritis conditions—from rheumatoid arthritis to ankylosing spondylitis. As with all medications, biologics may have side effects or adverse interactions with other drugs that you should take into consideration. Discuss all medications—even if they're over-the-counter and pose no apparent risk—with your doctor first.

Updated on: 03/21/16
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