A possible link between certain psoriasis treatments and respiratory-tract infection risk

Studies show further investigation of certain autoimmune-disease medications are needed amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

After examining data from large trials of autoimmune-disease medications called Interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine found individuals who took these treatments were about 30-60% more likely to develop symptoms associated with respiratory-tract infections. The findings could signify that IL-17 inhibitors may influence susceptibility to different viral and other types of respiratory infections. Since the novel coronavirus is a type of viral respiratory infection, the results also encourage further investigation into a potential relationship between IL-17 inhibitors and COVID-19. The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 

A medical worker in full personal protective gear holds up an x-ray of a chest and lungs

IL-17 inhibitors are commonly prescribed to patients with certain autoimmune diseases, like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis to decrease symptoms because they disrupt the attacks that an over-active immune system can launch on itself. Penn researchers saw an increase in the number of diagnoses and symptoms consistent with respiratory-tract infections in IL-17-inhibitor-treated participants as compared to those in a placebo group. This indicates that patients taking IL-17 inhibitors could be more susceptible to respiratory infections. These infections typically are benign and self-limited, but the emergence of SARS-Cov-2 has demonstrated the potential for serious health consequences of novel respiratory infections.

“Our patients are concerned about the immune suppressive effects of their treatments,” says lead author Joel Gelfand, a professor of dermatology and epidemiology and the director of the Penn Psoriasis and Phototherapy Treatment Center. “Our findings point to the need to determine whether IL-17 inhibitors make patients more susceptible to COVID-19 infection.”

This story is by Alex Gardner. Read more at Penn Medicine News.