What Is Humira (Adalimumab)?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023 | Last updated: June 2023

Humira® (adalimumab) is a systemic treatment that can be used to treat adults with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. It has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating psoriasis since 2005, and some other approvals include psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases1.

Adalimumab, the active ingredient in Humira, is a biologic therapy made from recombinant technology. It is a powerful medicine that is generally prescribed to patients who have not responded well enough to topical treatments, phototherapy, or to other types of systemic or biologic therapies. To treat psoriasis, adalimumab affects the way that a patient’s immune system functions2.

How does Humira (adalimumab) work to treat plaque psoriasis?

People with psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition, have symptoms on the skin that are caused by inflammation in the body. Certain proteins in the body called cytokines are made by the immune system to respond to infections and other problems by triggering inflammation1. The body of a person with psoriasis makes too many of a certain type cytokine, called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which causes an excess amount of inflammation that it not needed. This inflammation triggers the production of an excessive amount of new skin cells, which build up into plaques on the surface of the skin2.

Adalimumab is a type of drug called a TNF-alpha blocker. It works by seeking out and binding to the TNF-alpha cytokines, which stops them from causing inflammation and reduces psoriasis symptoms. Clinical studies have reported that after four months of treatment with Humira, many patients have improvements in psoriasis symptoms of 75%-90%2.

How is Humira (adalimumab) administered?

People with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis take Humira through an injection to the thigh, upper arm, or abdomen. Most patients are able to inject the medicine themselves after being trained by a healthcare provider1. Side effects on the skin around the injection site can be avoided by injecting each dose into a different area of skin than the previous dose. Humira should be kept in the refrigerator when not in use.

Who can take Humira (adalimumab)?

Humira is approved for treating adults (older than 18 years) with psoriasis that is moderate to severe, and for whom treatment with systemic therapies and/or phototherapy is appropriate2.

Before prescribing Humira, healthcare providers need to know if the patient4:

  • has an infection, has any symptoms of infection, and/or tends to get infections often
  • has diabetes
  • has or has had cancer
  • has any condition that affects the nervous system (such as multiple sclerosis)
  • has or has had heart failure
  • has tuberculosis or has been in contact with anyone who has tuberculosis
  • has or has had hepatitis B
  • lives in a part of the country where the risk of getting certain types of fungal infections is higher
  • has any surgeries planned
  • has any vaccines planned
  • is allergic to rubber or latex
  • is pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • is allergic to adalimumab or any other ingredient in Humira

Healthcare providers also need to know about any and all medicines, vitamins, and/or supplements that the patient is taking. They especially need to know if the patient is taking any of the following medicines4:

  • Orencia (abatacept)
  • Kineret (anakinra)
  • Rituxan (rituximab),
  • Imuran (azathioprine)
  • Purinethol (6–mercaptopurine, 6-mp)

What are the common side effects and risks of taking Humira (adalimumab)?

Humira is a very powerful medicine that changes the way a patient’s immune system functions. This can reduce the body’s ability to fight off viral, bacterial, and fungal infections that can be very serious. Let a healthcare provider know if you experience any signs or symptoms of an infection while taking Humira, such as cough, low grade fever, or weight loss2.

Other serious side effects linked to treatment with Humira include4:

  • hepatitis B
  • allergic reactions
  • nervous system problems
  • blood problems
  • new or worsened heart failure
  • new or worsened psoriasis

In children and adolescents, taking Humira can cause a slight increase in the risk of certain types of cancer, including lymphoma and skin cancers. Patients are regularly monitored with blood tests and exams for signs of any serious side effects. Patients should be monitored before and during treatment for tuberculosis.

Around 20% of patients who take Humira experience reactions on the skin where the medicine is injected, such as redness, itch, pain, and/or swelling.  While not an exhaustive list of side effects, other common side effects include4:

  • upper respiratory infections
  • headache
  • rash

Humira has a boxed warning, the strictest warning from the FDA. It has this warning because:

  • It can increase your risk of serious infections
  • Cancer has been reported in children and adolescents treated with Humira

These are not all the possible side effects of Humira. Talk to your doctor about what to expect when taking Humira. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking Humira.

Can Humira (adalimumab) be used with other treatments or drugs?

Healthcare providers will advise patients about whether they can be treated with Humira at the same time as other types of treatments for psoriasis. Combining Humira with corticosteroids, azathioprine, and cyclosporine is not usually recommended4.

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