Posted by : Ed Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
What is Xeljanz?
Xeljanz (tofacitinib) is a prescription medication made and sold by Pfizer. It blocks some enzymes in the body that affect the immune system. Users run an increased risk of many serious health problems, including blood clots, heart attacks, cancer, and death. They have sparked lawsuits by those impacted by the drug and family members of those killed as a result.
What Does It Treat?
Xeljanz treats conditions in adults after other treatments failed or they can’t safely use other drugs:
- Moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis
- Active psoriatic arthritis
- Moderate to severe ulcerative colitis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder. It can affect joints, skin, eyes, lungs, the heart, and blood vessels. RA is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the body’s healthy tissues. While osteoarthritis concerns the wear-and-tear damage of joints, rheumatoid arthritis impacts joint linings. It causes painful swelling that may result in bone erosion and joint deformity. The condition’s inflammation can also harm other parts of the body. Severe cases can cause physical disabilities.
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis afflicting some with psoriasis (a skin condition with red patches of skin covered in silvery scales). Most of those affected develop the skin condition first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis causes joint stiffness, swelling, and pain. The disease may cycle between flare-ups and remissions. There’s no cure, so medications focus is on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage. Without treatment, the condition can be disabling.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease. It results in ulcers and inflammation in the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis impacts the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. Symptoms include:
- Loose, urgent bowel movements
- Bloody stool
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Persistent diarrhea
The condition may be debilitating and could cause life-threatening complications. There’s no cure, but successful treatment can significantly reduce symptoms lead to long-term remission.
How Does Xeljanz Work?
The drug comes in a pill form and has two formulations, Xeljanz and Xeljanz XR (extra release). The active ingredient for both is tofacitinib. It’s in a group of drugs known as Janus kinase inhibitors or JAK inhibitors. Xeljanz is the first drug of its kind.
JAKs are enzymes within the immune system and other cells that transmit signals to influence cell functions, including inflammation. When JAKs in immune cells are blocked, overly active immune processes that cause joint damage, pain, and swelling decrease.
The drug decreases cytokines in the body. They’re a protein that helps regulate the immune system. If there’s an infection, cytokines increase to help control it. But too much of them cause problems. Those with RA have more cytokines than they need, causing inflammation and pain.
Xeljanz has the same effect in those with psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis. It lowers inflammation that causes their symptoms. Xeljanz is often prescribed when drugs that are usually the first line of treatment fail.
What are Possible Xeljanz Side Effects?
More common issues include:
More serious but less frequent side effects include increased risks for:
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Serious viral, bacterial, and fungal infections
- Reactivation of tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and C
- Some cancers like lymphoma
- Intestinal perforations
- Low blood counts
- Liver and kidney problems
- Increased cholesterol
Why is Xeljanz the Subject of Litigation?
Like many prescription drugs causing lawsuits, serious side effects are lead to legal claims by victims. They include:
- Major blood clots in the pelvis, lungs, legs, and thighs
- Pulmonary embolisms
- Liver damage
Potentially deadly blood clots can cause a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis. A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in a pulmonary artery of the lungs. It’s usually caused by blood clots that come from deep veins in the legs or other parts of the body (deep vein thrombosis). The condition can be life-threatening.
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