By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Tony Damico has struggled his whole life with eczema, a condition involving an overactive immune system and the skin.

“When I wake up is probably the worst time. My skin hurts and stuff,” he said. “Sweating. When I sweat, too, that’s bad.”

He’s tried just about every cream and pill and endured potential side effects, such as bruising, kidney problems, and immune suppression. But he still has the itchy, dry, painful rash in places.

Now a new treatment has come along – a biologic – a class of medicines, specifically proteins, made from living cells. It’s not a pill, or a cream, but an injection given at home every other week.

“It is a shot, but you don’t see needles,” said Dr. Brain Horvath of Horavth Dermatology. “It looks like a pen that you hold against your skin.”

The drug is called Dupixent, the brand name for dupilumab.

“Forty percent of these people who are taking the medication had clearer almost no eczema whatsoever, which is an amazing result for people with such severe eczema to begin with,” said Dr. Horavth.

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This new shot is more precise in its target, so you get a better response with fewer side effects. It prevents the body from making interlukin-4 and interlukin-13, a particular immune system protein that contributes to eczema. The shot could be used for asthma, too.

“Any adult who has had eczema for several years, having to use steroid cream multiple times a week, even several times a day would be a perfect candidate,” explained Dr. Horvath.

Tony is a college student and would be a perfect candidate. He did have some trouble with insurance coverage — it costs $37,000 a year.

Dr. Horvath says insurance companies insist that other treatments are tried first. In fact, he hasn’t yet prescribed it.

“The main side effects currently are mild flairs of eczema, and also runny noses, and conjunctivitis, which is inflammation around the eyes,” said Dr. Horvath.

As for its effect on the immune system, that doesn’t bother Tony.

“It doesn’t concern me that much. I’ve been on immunosupressants my whole life, so that’s not really too concerning,” he said. Nor is he bothered that it’s an injection.

“I like that I don’t have to take a pill, or do a lot more topicals anymore. I don’t mind a shot, you know, once every two weeks isn’t bad at all.”

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