Biologics are a class of medications that are genetically engineered from a living organism, such as a protein or gene, to stimulate the body’s natural response to infection and disease. Unlike traditional systemic drugs that impact the entire immune system, biologics target specific parts of the immune system. Biologics can interfere with different inflammatory substances, cells or pathways responsible for the symptoms and damage of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

How do they work?

A biologic is given by injection or intravenous (IV) infusion. Biologics are used for the treatment of arthritis and work in several ways:

  • Biologics block a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), which is made by white blood cells and causes inflammation of the joint.

  • Biologics block white blood cells called B-cells which produce antibodies and are produced excessively in some forms of arthritis.

  • Biologics block interleukin-1 (IL-1) or interleukin-6 (IL-6), two proteins involved in joint inflammation.

  • Biologics inhibit the activation of white blood cells called T-cells to prevent chain reactions that result in inflammation.

Who are they for?

Biologics are used for people with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases or forms of arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. There are several biologic drugs available today that have been approved by the FDA, such as Humira and Enbrel.

It’s important to note that while biologics can help induce remission, they do not cure the disease. A clinical remission is defined as fewer than 15 minutes of morning stiffness and no tender or swollen joints for at least three months.

Because biologic agents act selectively instead of targeting the entire immune system, the therapies offer a distinct advantage for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases by minimizing side effects.