chronic eye diseases
A new study has found that people suffering from uveitis may be helped with the immune-suppressing drug, Humira. Getty Images/Mark Mainz

People suffering from uveitis, a condition marked by chronic eye inflammation, may now have an alternative to commonly-used steroids in the form of the immune-suppressing drug Humira (adalimumab), according to a new study.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Humira, manufactured by AbbVie, for the treatment of uveitis in June this year. The new study, sponsored by the pharmaceutical company, was published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Corticosteroids are the commonly used treatment for current standard treatment for the condition that can cause loss of vision or even blindness, explained Glenn Jaffe, senior author of the study and professor of ophthalmology at Duke University School of Medicine. The treatment, however, comes with a risk of side effects — weight gain, mood changes, fatigue, acne and others.

“Patients may have many unwanted side effects when taking steroids long-term, as many uveitis patients do,” Jaffe said in a press release. “The goal of these studies was to determine whether there was an alternative that could replace or minimize the use of steroids. The studies also looked at whether an alternative would be better tolerated or more effective, yet still safe.”

For the purpose of the study, the researchers assigned 217 adults — with active, non-infectious intermediate or posterior uveitis — to a group that received either adalimumab or a placebo at the beginning of the trial, continuing with a dose every two weeks after that.

Standard doses of the corticosteroid prednisone were also given to the participants, but the dosage was decreased continuously over the course of 15 weeks.

The likelihood of flare-ups was found to be considerably lower for those receiving Humira than those on placebo with 24 weeks being the average time to a flare-up for the former, compared to 13 weeks for the latter, the research found.

According to Jaffe, Humira reduces inflammation by blocking proteins that cause it.

However, the usage of Humira increases the chance of infections, causing the researchers to ensure that the patients were not suffering from tuberculosis or multiple sclerosis before taking the drug. They also noted that patients taking the drug reported adverse effects like respiratory tract infections and allergic reactions more often than the other group.

United Press International quoted Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved with the study, as saying, “Humira effectively achieved disease control after stopping steroid treatment.”

“Further investigation into alternative therapies for uveitic disease is necessary to attempt to save the sight of the many patients that suffer from this sight-threatening group of diseases,” Fromer said.