Humira, one of the world’s best selling and most popular drugs, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of many different moderate to severe autoimmune and immune-influenced conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Humira is so popular that global sales of the drug reached nearly 20 billion dollars in 2018, with more than 13 billion dollars spent in the United States alone. Humira is not a cure for autoimmune disorders, but it does address the chronic inflammation associated with many of these conditions. It’s considered highly effective and has been in use for 20 years, and it remains popular today because it is considered safe and well-tolerated. Now for the million-dollar question: how much does Humira cost?
What Is Humira?
Since it was first approved by the FDA in 2002 under the manufacturer AbbVie, Humira has been used to treat pain and inflammation associated with a number of different conditions. Humira belongs to a class of drugs called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers. TNF is part of the body’s natural immune response, helping to raise inflammation levels in the body in response to injury or infection. When TNF is produced in response to an injury or infection, it can be helpful, but some people produce TNF constantly, resulting in chronic inflammation. Humira is given as an injection and helps to reduce chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune conditions.
What Is Humira Used to Treat?
Humira treats chronic inflammation associated with numerous conditions, including autoimmune disease and other disorders, in both adults and children. People experience chronic inflammation as a result of the activity of a protein called TNF, which can cause joint swelling, damage, and other forms of inflammation. Humira is FDA-approved to treat the following conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Plaque psoriasis
- Crohn’s disease
- Pediatric Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
- Non-infectious uveitis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks healthy joints by mistake. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of physical function in their joints, and many people experience permanent joint damage. Humira treats moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis by targeting and blocking the source of the inflammation that causes joint pain and damage.
Plaque psoriasis is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune factors. The immune system of a person with plaque psoriasis sends messages to the body to increase the growth rate of skin cells, causing excess skin cells to accumulate. People with plaque psoriasis experience symptoms that include cracked, dry skin, reddish areas of inflamed skin, sore, itchy, or burning skin, and scaly, silver patches of inflamed skin. People with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis often have too much TNF-alpha protein, which is blocked by Humira, helping to reduce inflammation.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract, particularly the small and large intestines. People with Crohn’s disease experience flare ups that are marked by abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and unintended weight loss, as well as periods of remission where their symptoms are under control.
Ulcerative colitis is another IBD that is characterized by painful inflammation, irritation, swelling, and the development of painful sores or ulcers on the large intestine. Inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis is thought to be linked to TNF, which can be blocked by Humira.
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is believed to be linked to the immune system. The most common sign of HS is the development of small bumps underneath the skin, particularly in areas where skin rubs together, hair follicles are present, or sweat glands are located.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy joints in the spine, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness, most frequently in the lower back. Humira is the number one prescribed treatment for ankylosing spondylitis and is helpful in blocking the action of TNF proteins that cause the inflammation associated with the disease.
Non-infectious uveitis, a type of eye inflammation that affects the uvea, or portion of the eye containing the iris, choroid, and ciliary body, can be treated using Humira. The inflammation is caused by something other than bacteria or a virus, and it may be acute or chronic. Symptoms can include eye pain or redness, blurred vision, changes in vision, dark floating spots, and sensitivity to light. Humira is the only FDA-approved biologic that is able to treat non-infectious uveitis effectively in patients as young as two.
How Does Humira Work?
Humira works by binding to TNF proteins and blocking their action. TNF is part of the body’s normal immune response, and most people produce it at healthy levels, but some medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, cause an overproduction of the substance, resulting in chronic inflammation. Due to the many conditions that are marked by chronic inflammation due to excess TNF production, Humira is capable of treating the symptoms of many medical issues. Unfortunately, no cures exist for the conditions treated by Humira, and only the symptoms can be addressed.
How Much Does Humira Cost?
Humira is considered by many to be a wonder drug, but the cost of the medication remains staggering. The average drug price for a one month supply of an average dose of Humira is nearly 6,000 dollars, and Humira prices are continuing to rise. Humira is so expensive in large part due to the fact that no generic version of the medication exists. Humira is a biologic drug made from living cells, which makes it extremely difficult to replicate in a generic form. While a generic bioequivalent may not be available for Humira any time soon, two biosimilar drugs have received FDA approval from other drugmakers. Biosimilar drugs do not have an identical chemical composition to the brand name drug, but they work in a similar way. However, they may not have the same level of therapeutic benefit as the drugs they are designed to mimic. Regardless of their effectiveness, the two biosimilars for Humira that have been approved by the FDA are not yet available for purchase.
Patients looking to save on their Humira prescriptions do have options. The manufacturer, AbbVie Inc. offers a savings program on its website for patients with commercial insurance who do not receive insurance coverage for the medication and patients without health insurance. Using the Humira complete savings card, patients can pay as little as five dollars per month for their prescription coverage. Pharmacy discount card programs like Pharmacists.org also offer savings on all FDA-approved brand name and generic medications, including Humira, and patients can sign up for free.
What Are the Benefits of Humira?
It’s no coincidence that Humira is sold to the tune of tens of billions of dollars around the world each year. The medication has many benefits and is effective for the treatment of numerous multiple to severe autoimmune conditions. Benefits of Humira include:
- Side effects are usually mild and most patients tolerate the medication well.
- Humira has been clinically studied for over 20 years, so its effects are well understood.
- Humira can help prevent joint damage in people with rheumatoid arthritis when combined with methotrexate.
- Humira can be used to treat patients as young as two years of age depending on the condition being treated.
What Risks Are Associated With Humira?
Although there are many benefits associated with Humira, as listed above, taking the medication also poses some risks. Risks associated with Humira include:
- Some patients taking Humira, including children, have suddenly developed a rare form of cancer called hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma. This disease can be fatal.
- Patients taking Humira must be especially careful to avoid infection because the infection-fighting ability of your body’s immune system is lowered when taking the medication.
- Patients who are recovering from an infection or who get infections frequently should be sure to discuss their medical history with their doctor prior to starting Humira.
- Patients should not receive vaccines while taking Humira, and the medication leaves people more susceptible to disease and infection. Therefore, patients who have not received a complete vaccine schedule should complete any necessary vaccines prior to taking Humira.
What Dose of Humira Should I Take?
Humira is offered in doses of 10 mg, 20 mg, and 40 mg, and doctors will prescribe the appropriate dose for each patient depending on their age, the condition being treated, and other factors. Humira is typically given every other week after receiving a starting dose, which is administered by a healthcare professional. After the initial starting dose, most patients administer Humira themselves at home by injecting the medication into the abdomen or thighs using a prefilled single-use syringe or pen. Patients should only inject Humira on their own if they have received training to do so. The medication should be stored in the refrigerator and should not be frozen. If needed, Humira may be stored at room temperature for up to 14 days with protection from light.
What Are the Side Effects of Humira?
Side effects associated with Humira are categorized as either common or uncommon. Humira is generally well tolerated by most adults, and injection site reactions are the most common side effect experienced by patients. Common side effects associated with Humira that usually do not need medical attention include:
- Bladder pain
- Injection site reactions such as pain, redness, rash, swelling, itching, or bruising
- Upper respiratory infections/sinus infections
Most of the side effects listed above are mild and last for only a short time as your body adjusts to Humira. If side effects persist or an allergic reaction develops, talk to your doctor.
Some adverse effects of Humira do require medical attention. Check with your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the following uncommon but serious side effects while taking Humira:
- Allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hives, itching, or skin rash
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, or face
- Chest tightness
- Infections, including tuberculosis and other infections. Symptoms include:
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Stomach problems
- Fever and chills
- Muscle pain
- Immune reactions
- Liver problems
- Worsening psoriasis
- Nervous system problems, including weakness, tingling, and numbness
- Low platelet count
- Heart conditions
Can Women Who Are Pregnant or Breastfeeding Take Humira?
Incomplete data about the effects of Humira on pregnant women and fetuses does not provide enough information about the use of Humira during pregnancy. Therefore, Humira should only be used during pregnancy if the benefits outweigh the risks to the fetus. AbbieVie, the manufacturer for Humira, states that women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to breastfeed should speak to their doctors before using Humira. Women who are considering breastfeeding should speak to their doctor about the benefits and risks of using Humira, as Humira should not be used by breastfeeding women. Women should plan to stop taking Humira or choose not to breastfeed, as the medication is transferred to the infant through breast milk.
Who Should Not Take Humira?
Humira should not be taken by people who have an allergic reaction to Humira or any of its ingredients, including monobasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, sodium chloride, citric acid monohydrate, adalimumab, Mannitol, sodium citrate, or polysorbate 80. It also should not be taken by anyone with an active severe infection, a current diagnosis of tuberculosis, or other infections that could weaken the immune system. While taking Humira, patients should not receive “live” vaccines, as the vaccine may not be as effective and may not provide full protection from the disease. People who have experienced any of the following health conditions should make sure to fully discuss their medical history with their doctor prior to taking Humira.
- Autoimmune disease
- Demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis
- Liver or kidney problems or disease
- Infections, especially if infections are recurring or localized
- Fungal infection
- Latex or rubber allergy
- Heart conditions
Humira should not be taken in combination with the following medications:
- Enbrel (entanercept)
- Cimzia (certolizumab pegol)
- Simponi (golimumab)
- Orencia (abatacept)
- Kineret (anakinra)
- Remicade (infliximab)
Patients who have ever taken the prescription drugs Rituxan (rituximab), Imuran (azathioprine) or Purinethol (mercaptopurine, 6-MP) should disclose this information to their doctors when considering Humira.
Owner, entrepreneur, and health enthusiast.
Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Pharmacists.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Pharmacists.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate Diabetic.org and the USA Rx Pharmacy Discount Card powered by Pharmacists.org.
Chris has a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation and is a proud member of the American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA), the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the Council of Science Editors, the Author’s Guild, and the Editorial Freelance Association (EFA).
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