Treating Nail Psoriasis: Intralesional Injections and Biologics

HONOLULU — In the clinical experience of April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, topical therapies typically don’t work well for nail psoriasis, so she sometimes resorts to intralesional injections combined with systemic therapy.

One might think of intralesional injections “as a torture method from the medieval days,” she said at the Hawaii Dermatology Seminar provided by MedscapeLIVE!, but intramatricial corticosteroid injections have been performed for many years as a treatment for nail psoriasis, typically with triamcinolone acetonide.

According to Dr. Armstrong, professor of dermatology and associate dean of clinical research at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, nail matrix psoriasis can present as pitting, leukonychia, red macules in the lunula, crumbling, or trachyonychia. Nail bed psoriasis can present as splinter hemorrhages and onycholysis, hyperkeratosis and splinter hemorrhages, salmon patch or oil spot dyschromia, or onycholysis and salmon patch dyschromia.

In a German cross-sectional study of patients with psoriasis, nails were one of the body sites that have the greatest impact on quality of life – especially those in younger age groups.

While topical treatments are generally considered first for limited disease involving special areas such as the nails, systemic therapy is warranted in patients with moderate-to-severe involvement of specific sites or in those refractory to topical therapy, Dr. Armstrong said.

In 2018, Indian researchers published results from an open-label study of 17 patients, with nail psoriasis, comparing three treatments . Patients were assigned to three groups of 30 nails each and treated with intramatricial injections of triamcinolone acetonide (10 mg/mL), methotrexate (25 mg/mL), and cyclosporine (50 mg/mL), respectively. Each nail was treated with two injections at 6-week intervals and graded at 24 weeks using the Nail Psoriasis Severity Index (NAPSI). In the triamcinolone acetonide and methotrexate groups, 50% of treated nails showed a greater than 75% improvement at 24 weeks, compared with 33% of those in the cyclosporine group. The most side effects occurred in the nails treated with cyclosporine.

When Dr. Armstrong performs intramatricial injections, she uses triamcinolone acetonide at 10 mg/mL. However, she said, “my favorite way of treating severe nail psoriasis is with biologics.”

In an early study of patients with moderate to severe psoriasis treated with the tumor necrosis factor blocker adalimumab 80 mg subcutaneously at week 0, followed by 40 mg subcutaneously every other week from weeks 1 to 15, a post hoc analysis on the effects on nail psoriasis showed a 10-point decrease in the median NAPSI score through week 16 — from 21 to 11 .

In VOYAGE 2, which compared the interleukin-23 blocker guselkumab and adalimumab in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis, the mean percent improvement from baseline in the NAPSI score was similar in patients treated with adalimumab or guselkumab at week 16 (39.6% vs. 46.9%, respectively) and at week 24 (55% vs. 53.7%).

In another study of patients with nail psoriasis, researchers evaluated the efficacy of the IL-17A antagonist secukinumab 150 mg, 300 mg, or placebo at weeks 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and every 4 weeks thereafter for 2.5 years. At 2.5 years, the mean reduction in NAPSI score was 63.6% in the secukinumab 150 mg group and 73.3% in the secukinumab 300 mg group.

“I do have to tell my patients what to expect, because the nails grow out slowly, but over time we do see this increase in efficacy,” Dr. Armstrong said.

Studies of another IL-17A antagonist, ixekizumab, have yielded positive results as well, she noted. In 2021, Taiwanese researchers published a systematic review and network meta-analysis to evaluate the efficacy of small molecule inhibitors and biologics in treating nail psoriasis. They drew from 39 studies involving 15,673 patients with nail psoriasis and found that the oral Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib and ixekizumab had the best efficacy for treating nail psoriasis in 10-16 weeks and 24-26 weeks, respectively.

“They found that overall, the biologics have a good effect on nail psoriasis and that the treatment effects are overall quite similar,” Dr. Armstrong said.

Dr. Armstrong disclosed that she is a consultant or adviser for numerous pharmaceutical companies. She has also received research funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Dermavant, Dermira, Leo, Lilly, Pfizer, and UCB Pharma.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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