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.

Types of biologics used for arthritis include: 

  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors target an inflammation-provoking protein made by white blood cells.
  • B-cells inhibitors interfere with the production of certain antibodies that are overproduced in some diseases. 
  • Interleukin (IL) inhibitors target proteins involved in inflammation, including IL-1, IL-6, IL-12 and IL-23. 
  • Selective co-stimulation modulators interfere with the activation of white blood cells called T cells, thereby preventing the immune system 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’s 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.

The Arthritis Today Drug Guide is meant for education – not self-medicating. Arthritis Today, the Arthritis Foundation and the Drug Guide Medical Review Panel do not endorse any products mentioned in this guide. While we endeavor to keep the information up to date, we make no representations or warranties about the completeness of the information provided.

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