– While biologics have dramatically changed the picture, drugs like methotrexate, acitretin, cyclosporine, and apremilast still have roles to play in the treatment of psoriasis, a dermatologist told colleagues.

However, caution is necessary, especially when the drugs are used in combination with biologics, Bruce E. Strober, MD, PhD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and Central Connecticut Dermatology, Cromwell, Conn., said at Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

Dr. Strober offered these tips about the proper use of these four drugs in psoriasis patients:

Acitretin (Soriatane). “This was used as monotherapy initially, but at this point in history, fewer and fewer patients are getting it as monotherapy,” he said. A dose of 25 mg/day appears to provide the best mix of efficacy and side-effect control, “although it’s not a high-efficacy drug, especially at 25 mg a day. It’s a slow-acting drug, and you may need 4 if not 6 months to see the maximum effect before you give up on it.”

What about using acitretin in combination with other therapies? Studies examining its use with phototherapy haven’t been promising, Dr. Strober said. The drug can be used with methotrexate, he said, even though the combination will worry pharmacists. “Follow the liver, and you’ll be fine” he noted. “That combination can be successful. Laboratory monitoring is not onerous: Discontinue after a few months if you’ve not seen any movement.” The drug can also be used with biologics, he said.

Apremilast (Otezla). This drug will bring about a third of patients to a Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI) 75. “That’s not the most impressive efficacy. Rarely do we clear patients with this drug, and it has tolerability issues in some patients,” Dr. Strober said. Side effects can include diarrhea, nausea, headache, and depression. “Warn patients of these possibilities,” he added.

Methotrexate. “It’s very helpful and not a drug to be feared if it’s monitored correctly,” Dr. Strober said. “It’s certainly not a biologic, but it’s not a bad drug from an efficacy standpoint, and it does have efficacy in psoriatic arthritis.”

The drug’s low cost can make it a good alternative to biologics in patients with limited insurance options – such as those on Medicare – or those who don’t have insurance, he said.

“Psoriasis is often controlled at a mean dose of 15 mg/week [orally], with no test dose; start at 15-mg weekly,” he said. “It’s an interesting drug that allows you to dose weekly and still get efficacy,” especially when dosed subcutaneously.

Beware the many contraindications such as pregnancy, possible pregnancy, and high alcohol intake, he added. Dr. Strober doesn’t recommend liver biopsies to monitor hepatic effects. “It’s a poor test with risk and sampling error,” he said.

Cyclosporine. This drug is best “in severe patients in need of a quick response,” said Dr. Strober, who added that biologics are often a better option even in patients who are sensitive to price since samples and free-drug programs are available. “It’s in and out of the body quickly, and most people skip doses and get recurrence of their disease quickly,” he said.

Blood tests are a hassle for patients, he said, and “people often don’t feel great on the drug,” said Dr. Strober, who added, however, that he still does occasionally use it.

Dr. Strober reported multiple disclosures including consultant/advisory board (AbbVie, Amgen, Lilly, Pfizer, among others) and investigator relationships. SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.