What do they do?

Biologics, or biologic response modifiers, are medications genetically engineered from a living organism, such as a virus, gene or protein, to simulate the body’s natural response to infection and disease. Biologics target proteins, cells and pathways responsible for the symptoms and damage of rheumatoid arthritis and other types of inflammatory arthritis.

How do they work?

The biologics used in arthritis treatment work in one of several ways:

  • by blocking a protein called tumor necrosis factor, which is made by white blood cells and promotes inflammation of joint damage
  • by blocking white blood cells called B-cells which produce antibodies and are produced excessively in in some forms of arthritis
  • by blocking interleukin-1 (IL-1) or interleukin-6 (IL-6), two proteins involved in joint inflammation
  • by inhibiting the activation of white blood cells called T-cells, thereby preventing the chain reactions that result in inflammation.

Who are they for?

Biologics are typically reserved for people whose arthritis has not responded adequately to traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). However, in some cases, your doctor may prescribe a biologic first.

What is important to know about the drug class?

All biologics increase your risk of infection. You should be screened for tuberculosis and other infections before you start a biologic. Tell your doctor if you have any signs of infection (such as chills, fever, sore throat) or any other biologic side effects. Also talk to your doctor before getting any vaccinations. Most are okay, but live vaccines may be unsafe.

See all biologic drugs.