Minna Fein-Leenen was living a happy, healthy life until 2011 when she developed atopic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease.

“It was devastating. I thought I was losing my mind,” the Ottawa resident told delegates at the 2018 Calgary Drug Trends Summit on Oct. 25. “The intensity of the itching can only be described as being eaten up alive. It felt as though I was continually being bitten and sharply stung deep inside my skin. The disease impacted my ability to concentrate and to do the smallest activity. The constant, crippling pain was exhausting.”

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The illness prevented Fein-Leenen from sleeping and she only left her home when she had to. In public, people were shocked at her appearance and shied away from her as though she were contagious. “I’d cover up with a large, floppy hat, sunglasses and baggy clothing, and go out at night when I felt that I could hide my skin,” she said.

Over the past several years, Fein-Leenen has tried a combination of 34 different prescriptions and other therapies, and saw 16 doctors and residents before being referred to Dr. Neil Shear, head of dermatology at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and president of the Canadian Dermatology Association. Shear felt Fein-Leenen would be a good candidate for a new biologic for adults with uncontrolled moderate to severe atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema.

Since Fein-Leenen started taking the biologic in June 2018, her life has changed dramatically for the better. Her skin is mostly healed with no flare-ups and, to date, there have been no side-effects. She is extremely grateful to Shear “for giving me hope and giving me my life back.” As well, Fein-Leenen’s insurance covers 90 per cent of the drug’s cost.

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Patients with atopic dermatitis suffer from dry rough skin, oozing and bleeding that doesn’t go away, explained Shear, while speaking at the event. Patients with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis experience a huge effect over and above the signs and symptoms of the disease, with atopic dermatitis negatively affecting workplace productivity, career progression, social functioning, mental health, overall quality of life and life course decisions.

“After so many decades, they lose the future,” said Shear. “People are anxious and depressed — this includes suicidality. When people come in, they’ve tried everything.”

Emerging therapies for atopic dermatitis can offer life enhancing improvements. “We’re getting into a new era for these drugs — biologics — and giving back lives that have been lost for years,” said Shear. “When people get good therapy, what they say is, ‘I can concentrate at work now.’”

For her part, Fein-Leenen has been able to resume activities that were taken away from her for the past eight years. “This drug has really restored my ability to go out and live life to the fullest, and stop itching.”

Read more coverage of the 2018 Calgary Drug Trends Summit.