Immunologic therapy is used to improve the immune system's natural ability to fight such diseases as cancer, hepatitis, and AIDS. These drugs may also be used to help the body recover from immunosuppression resulting from such treatments as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Most drugs in this category are synthetic versions of substances produced naturally in the body. In their natural forms, these substances help defend the body against disease. For example, aldesleukin (Proleukin) is an artificial form of interleukin-2, which helps white blood cells work. Aldesleukin is administered to patients with kidney cancers and skin cancers that have spread to other parts of the body. Filgrastim (Neupogen) and sargramostim (Leukine) are versions of natural substances called colony stimulating factors, which encourage the bone marrow to make new white blood cells. Another type of drug, epoetin (Epogen, Procrit), is a synthetic version of human erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to make new red blood cells. Thrombopoietin stimulates the production of platelets, which are disk-shaped bodies in the blood that are important in clotting. Interferons are substances that the body produces naturally, using cells in the immune system to fight infections and tumors. Synthetic interferons carry such brand names as Alferon, Roferon or Intron A. Some of the interferons that are currently in use as medications are recombinant interferon alfa-2a, recombinant interferon alfa-2b, interferon alfa-n1, and interferon alfa-n3. Alfa interferons are used to treat hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, and Kaposi's sarcoma, which is a type of cancer associated with HIV infection. In addition, interferons are also used to treat such other conditions as laryngeal papillomatosis, genital warts, and certain types of hepatitis.
Nancy Ross-Flanigan, Samuel Uretsky PharmD, Kausalya Santhanam Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,