What are the biologicals?

The biologicals are a class of drugs that have become quite prominent in the treatment of Rheumatology diseases in the last 10 years.

The term ‘biologic’ when applied to drugs means that drug has been derived from a source that is alive, such as a microorganism, plant or animal cell. Most drugs are simply chemically engineered, but biological drugs are derived from an organic living source, such as cloned white cells.

The biological drugs in Rheumatology have been genetically engineered to target and block particular chemicals in the immune system, known as ‘cytokines’, that cause inflammation and disease.

Different biological agents target different chemicals in the immune process as different chemicals have more of an impact and role in certain diseases.

There are other drugs in Rheumatology which have also been engineered to target particular cytokines in the immune process, but because they do not come from a living cell, they are not called ‘biological’.

Xeljanz is one of these.

Biological drugs have had a powerful impact in the field of rheumatology,  transforming the way that we treat inflammatory arthritis such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.

If you would like to know more about particular biological drugs, click on the following links to the Australian Rheumatology Association site which has detailed information sheets on these agents.

I suggest that it is wise to speak with your Rheumatologist about these drugs if you have more questions.

In Australia, access to these drugs is very limited because they are very expensive. There are strict criteria that people are required to meet by the government to demonstrate that they can access these drugs on the PBS. Your Rheumatologist will explain this in more detail to you if needed.

Biologicals are not the first line drugs to treat arthritis.

They do not need to be, as most people have a good response with standard medications, which are far cheaper.

Before being eligible, or needing these biological drugs it is needed that you first try standard DMARD therapy.