New Effective Lupus Drug Generates Glimmer Of Hope For Patients

Really good news for people with lupus — the first new Lupus Drug in 50 years has just been approved by the FDA.In case you aren’t familiar with it, systemic lupus erythematosus (its formal name) is a type of autoimmune condition. Under normal circumstances, the immune system protects the body against bacteria and viruses. But in autoimmune disorders, the immune system mistakes parts of the person’s own body for foreign invaders.Lupus can have wide-ranging and severe effects, because the immune system can attack and damage the skin, kidneys, lungs, brain, blood, heart, and joints.

But now along comes Benlysta (belimumab). It’s not a miracle drug, by a long shot. For example, it doesn’t seem to help African-American patients, which is disappointing, since African-Americans are more likely to have the condition than people of other races. Additionally, research studies showed Benlysta to have only a 43 percent symptom reduction rate, compared with 34 percent for placebo. Still, it’s one more weapon in a limited arsenal against the destructiveness of lupus. Some patients have noted that they could reduce their dependence on steroids for symptom management, which would definitely be a good thing, since steroids have significant side effects in chronic users (including bone fragility and weight gain).

One of the reasons people are celebrating this new drug is the idea that, once one company gains approval for a drug targeted against a specific disease, other companies often jump on the bandwagon in an effort to produce competitors. This kind of competition can only help lupus sufferers, who are long overdue for some good news.The downside to the Benlysta story is the expense — currently about $35,000 per year. It’s given through an IV every 28 days.

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