New medicines in development are building on a scientific breakthrough in the treatment of skin complaints that cause severe discomfort and even disfigurement to thousands of people in Britain, a report published today by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) shows.
The treatment of psoriasis - made famous by the television drama The Singing Detective, which has now been turned into a film currently on release - has undergone a revolution thanks to the discovery of new 'biological' medicines, derived by genetic engineering, and the new report shows that more are in the pipeline.
But it is also essential to ensure that patients are able to benefit from the developments that are being made - and a warning has been issued that thousands of patients with skin conditions are being overlooked or ignored.
The warning came from Peter Lapsley, chief executive of the Skin Care Campaign patient group, speaking at the launch of the ABPI publication, who said that the seriousness of the impact of skin disease on people's lives is hugely underestimated.
"Studies show that skin diseases like acne, eczema and psoriasis can be as damaging to the quality of people's lives as angina, asthma, diabetes and hypertension - often more so," said Mr Lapsley. He also called for more nurse and pharmacist training in dermatology and for a focus for skin disease for GPs.
His call was echoed by the Director General of the ABPI, Dr Trevor Jones. "Skin disorders, including psoriasis, eczema and acne, do not always get the attention they deserve because they are not normally life-threatening. Yet they can cause severe discomfort and lead to social problems including - in severe cases - depression and even suicide," said Dr Jones.
"It is very encouraging that researchers in the UK-based pharmaceutical industry have made such significant progress in extending our knowledge of the causes of these conditions and are coming up with fresh ways of tackling them."
The ABPI booklet, Target Skin, focuses on the three conditions of acne, eczema and psoriasis, and shows that scientific understanding of the causes of, especially, psoriasis have advanced considerably in recent years. In particular, new biological approaches, by fusing two human proteins or by making monoclonal antibodies to modulate the body's immune system, are pioneering new classes of medicines. Incorrect and over-activity in the immune system have been identified as causes of some types of psoriasis.
These medicines are described by the report as a "revolution" in dermatology, and it adds that they "offer genuine hope for people with very severe and incapacitating psoriasis for the first time".
However, not everyone responds well to many of the new agents, implying that there are further sub-types of the diseases to be identified or that researchers have not yet fully understood the mechanisms that cause the condition.
"Nevertheless, great strides have been made and the decade ahead should be one of hope and optimism for the many people unfortunate enough to suffer from these distressing orders of the skin," the booklet states.
While new biologicals for the treatment of psoriasis are potentially the most exciting development, eczema remains easily the commonest cause of consultation with GPs for skin disorders.
Here again, new medicines - the first to be introduced for many decades - are offering fresh hope to patients by modulating the immune system. Another, and very different approach, is a form of vaccination that could help people who suffer from a variety of allergic conditions, including eczema. Recruitment has started on a major UK trial to prove its worth under rigorous conditions.
In the field of acne, the report indicates that a major worry is the advance of resistant bacteria. To combat this, several older medicines are being reformulated and new molecules assessed.
Target Skin aims to provide an overview of three major dermatological conditions for the concerned layperson - typically, patients, carers, family and friends. It includes an explanation of how human skin is made up and how it works, and details the three conditions of acne, eczema and psoriasis. It then covers the pharmaceutical industry's efforts to help people with these conditions, and the current research that is being undertaken.
"While we are far from having all the answers to these disorders, the UK-based pharmaceutical industry has made very noteworthy advances in understanding the causes of these problems as well as in finding answers to them," said Dr Jones.
"New medicines, based on biotechnology, are starting to emerge, and these offer fresh hope not only to the people who have these conditions but also to their family and friends. Only by continuing to invest large sums of money in the research process will we be able to come up with still further advances."
Target Skin was written by Dr Mike Hall, a well respected medical writer.
A copy of Target Skin is attached to this press release. It is the 16th in a series of guides charting the pharmaceutical industry's progress in major disease areas. Copies of the other guides, also free, are available from the address above. Those still in print include: Target Pain, Target Cancer, Target Crohn's & Colitis, Target Epilepsy, Target Osteoporosis, Target Rheumatoid Arthritis, Target Parkinson's, Target Diabetes, Target Stroke, Target Depression, Target Migraine, Target Prostate, Target Alzheimer's and Target Schizophrenia.
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410